What do lotus leaves, moth eyes, and desert beetle shells have in common? They are all underappreciated pieces of nature that fulfill multiple amazing purposes simultaneously. These three natural objects inspired MIT researchers to look at a modern day staple, glass, and modify it to have life changing capabilities. The future applications are endless.
MIT researchers have designed what they are calling multifunctional glass. They succeeded in this achievement by implementing a new surface pattern than what is typically found on glass that we use today. MIT has created a transparent surface that not only eliminates glare and reflections, but also repels water at an amazing level. Just as impressive, the glass surface is designed in a way that it is self cleaning and fog resistant!
The process involved to achieve this feat, though arduous, was rather simple on the surface; glass was coated with thin transparent layers that were then etched down multiple times into a new pattern, unlike any other ever used before. The pattern is so unique, in fact, that it was recently patented by MIT. They etch the surface of the glass into microscopic cone shapes that are five times taller than they are wide. This design enables light to be absorbed, and water to be instantaneously shed. It is believed that this pattern can be easily imprinted onto molten glass for any surface, giving almost anything these ultra-convenient properties.
Oxford University’s Andrew Parker said of the research, “Multifunctional surfaces in animals and plants are common. For the first time, as far as I am aware, this paper learns a lesson in manufacturing efficiency from nature by making an optimized antireflective and anti-fogging device. This is the way that nature works, and may well be the future of a greener engineering where two structures, and two manufacturing processes, are replaced by one.”
Due to the inexpensive nature of the discovery, we could soon see this super-glass implemented in all walks of life. We all know how frustrating glare can be on smart phones, tablets, and laptops so glass that reflects no sun into our eyes is great. It’s hydrophobic capabilities make it ideal for car windows; could it possibly eliminate the need for windshield wipers? It would be a professional window washers’ best friend; other than the fact that it might cost him his job.
One of the more vital future applications would be for solar panels, which are typically coated with glass. At various times of the day in current models, 50% of the sunlight that reaches these panels is reflected away and lost. Not only would we be able to harvest more energy for the sun, making solar an increasingly viable energy alternative, but the self cleaning nature would conserve energy lost from dirty or fogged regions as well. Finally, self-cleaning and anti-fogging glass in spectacles and future smart glasses would make wearing them much more convenient.
It’s amazing that simply manipulating the texture on a material that we’ve used for ages and is so vital to our everyday lives has completely transformed it. This discovery makes glass fit for use in the 21st century, but will we use glass forever? Will other super materials emerge that reduce the necessity of glass? One has to wonder how similar techniques to what MIT accomplished can be applied to other everyday materials, as well as future ones, to give them supernatural properties. Any cool future applications you can think of?
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