Scientists have invented windows that instantly switch between transparent and opaque

Blinds manufacturers everywhere gasp

Scientists at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (phew) have invented window technology that instantly gives privacy or camouflage. With the touch of a button, your window can go from fully transparent to opaque or even a translucent middle-ground.

We’ve seen windows that do this before but there’s a reason they aren’t common. They usually use chemicals inside or on the glass that undergo chemical reactions. The process itself is slow and the windows cost a lot of money. This new technology would allow the glass to change instantly and would be considerably cheaper. It works by changing the shape of the surface itself so that it scatters light. Imagine glass icing over just like the windows on the Hogwarts Express in the presence of Dementors:

The tunable window uses normal glass in the middle but has transparent elastomers on either side. Embedded in the elastomers are tiny silver nanowires. You can see right through the window as usual because the elastomers are transparents and the nanowires are so small that they don’t scatter light. When you apply some voltage, the nanowires on both sides of the glass try to reach each other and this warps the shape of the elastomers causing them to wrinkle and scatter light. The result is you go from a transparent window to an opaque window almost instantly. The researchers made a GIF with a LEGO window to demonstrate the technology:

Image © Hardvard.edu

A lot of future products based on new technologies never come to fruition despite sound science but we think it’s likely we’ll see these windows someday soon. Harvard is already working with glass manufacturers to license the technology. It’s much cheaper to produce and should work perfectly so there’s no reason future manufacturers won’t be on board. It’s also controllable by voltage so the user can operate the window’s transparency like a dimmer switch, with the amount of voltage controlling how much light gets through.

These windows would be an attractive option for smart home enthusiasts who want everything in their house to be connected. For example, the windows could automatically provide privacy in the evening when it starts to get dark outside. This could be brilliant for people who find it difficult to move around the house and reach the window when they want privacy.

Or you could look out to see who is knocking at the door then make the glass go opaque if you don’t like them.


Main image © 8ninths

Via Phys.org