Image: Windows on a multi story building
Image: Pierre Chatel via Unsplash

A research team led by CPE member Dr. Benjamin Higgins has developed a groundbreaking material that uses oil and coloured water to change its opacity in a matter of minutes, which could change how buildings heat and cool themselves to adapt to the changing climate. The inspiration for this technology is an unlikely sea creature that can change the colour of its skin to protect itself from the sun: krill.

Like marine organisms that disperse pigments within their skin, the researchers have designed an incredibly thin material capable of changing its opacity in a matter of minutes. The technology is designed to be used a “skin” for windows, which flood buildings with light and heat. Though the idea is still in its early phases, their work, which was just published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, suggests the urgent need for architects to develop dynamic buildings that can adapt to the changing environment, without the need for mechanical add-ons. Computerized testing revealed the technology to be to 30% more efficient than existing motorized blinds and smart windows on the market.

For now, the scientists have built a prototype the size of a windowpane. Next on the list: Hiring “an army of undergraduate students” and figuring out how to scale this up to a point that transcends windows. Architects could turn entire facades into adaptive skins that can take on various properties — from living art murals, to windows that can adapt to our circadian rhythm by taking on different hues depending on the time of day.

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