Researchers in South Korea may have found a way to design "smart windows" that could work wonders in making the average home far more efficient. In the usual spirit of a breakthrough, their approach takes something that wasn't feasible yesterday and promises to be stable and inexpensive tomorrow.
So, what's a smart window? Well, like the ones found on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner (pictured), it'd be a window pane that can go from transparent to opaque to block out light, which in turn would make a space easier to cool during a hot, sunny day. For the average household, that may mean a bump up in comfort, but such a smart window could mean big leaps in efficiency for larger structures, such as office buildings, or, you know, all-glass Apple Stores.
The big barrier to this kind of research has been the material involved that causes the window to dim. It usually turns out being prohibitively expensive to roll out on a large scale, degrades in quality far too fast to be viable, or it's just plain toxic.
The details of the research, published in the journal ACS Nano, indicate that the team at Soongsil University in Seoul have found that "because the smart windows were either highly transparent toward or completely blocking of incident light upon direct counterion exchange, this kind of nanotechnology may provide a new platform for efficiently conserving on energy usage in the interior of buildings." The optical switch happens in mere seconds, which is "unprecedented among established smart windows," according to the team.
The fact that the system is cheap and reliable is the big news here, though. That's the difference between a big corporation looking to green a building by spending a little more, and every home having only smart windows because there's no reason not to.