Three MIT chemists just gave us a glimpse into the future of smart windows. Their groundbreaking “self-shading” window can quickly change from clear to dark – and then stay that way without using any electricity. The windows could help everyone from homeowners looking to save on heating and cooling costs to pilots trying to get a clearer view out the cockpit window.

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The MIT researchers’ work was published this week in the journal Chem. In the paper, the chemists detail their innovative use of electrochromic materials to bypass issues involved with creating self-shading windows. For example, transition lenses in eyeglasses are able to change from clear to dark, but the process is relatively slow.

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This isn’t the first time electrochromic materials have been used – they can be found in Boeing 787 windows that darken over time with the flip of a switch. But those Boeing windows still take a few minutes to change. The positive ions that help with the color change move slowly, delaying the darkening process. To solve that issue, the MIT chemists used materials known as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), which conduct ions and electrons quickly. Again, the use of MOFs isn’t new, but the MIT team is the “first to harness them for their electrical and optical properties” so their windows darken quickly.

Further, it’s easier to create windows that can tint blue or green, but the MIT’s windows are nearly black. Once the windows turn dark with the help of a little electricity, they stay dark without using any power until a switch is flipped to clear them up again.

Paper co-author Mircea Dincă said, “It’s the combination of these two, of a relatively fast switching time and a nearly black color, that has really got people excited…These could lead to pretty significant energy savings.”

Via MIT News

Images via Wikimedia Commons and Khalid Abdulaziz Kaabi and Dennis Sheberla/MIT