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UBC working on smart glass ‘phenomenon’

By Eric MacKenzie

Kenneth Chau holds a sample from his experiments that could lead to the development of “smart glass.”
UBC Photo

Kenneth Chau holds a sample from his experiments that could lead to the development of “smart glass.” UBC Photo

Perceptions of what glass is capable of have been shattered thanks to a breakthrough discovery at UBC’s Okanagan campus.

Researchers in the school of engineering have learned that placing thin layers of metal on glass makes it possible to increase the amount of light passing through.

Lead investigator Kenneth Chau said he and collaborator Loïc Markley’s findings are a “pretty good step towards making glass materials that are smart.”

“You combine the see-through properties of glass with the natural ability of metal to conduct electricity, and you open up the possibility of putting electronic capabilities onto windows,” said Chau.

Suddenly, the idea of windows that can filter light and heat depending on the time, season or temperature is not that far-fetched.

“When you’re able to apply electricity, then you can insert other materials that change colour upon the application of electricity,” said Chau. “This effect, in combination with others, may pave the way to windows that can adapt to the heat and light naturally supplied to us by the sun.”

The findings could lead to video screens embedded within a pane of glass, which Chau described as “the holy grail of where this could go.”

It was already known that putting glass on metal could make metal more transparent, a method used in energy-efficient window coatings. But Chau and Markley figured out that the equations describing that effect were reversible and began testing their theory in the lab.

The duo used metal sheets with a thickness of 10 nanometres or less — a nanometre is one-billionth of one metre — and found that silver in particular increased the light coming through glass when combined.

“It’s not very often that you get to develop a fundamental blueprint for, in effect, a phenomenon and then be able to validate it in the lab,” said Chau.