Unique Electrochromic Windows and Synthetic Nanomotor Win 'The Oscars of Technology'

Jul 07, 2004
Unique Electrochromic Windows and Synthetic Nanomotor Win 'The Oscars of Technology' Simulation of nanomotor spinning on multi-w

A unique new type of energy-saving electrochromic window and the smallest synthetic motor ever reported, both of which were developed by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), have been recognized with 2004 Research and Development 100 Awards. Given by Research and Development Magazine, the awards have been called “the Oscars of technology.” The addition of these two winners brings the total of Research and Development 100 Awards won by Berkeley Lab researchers to 34.

Each year since 1963, R&D Magazine has honored the "100 most technologically significant new products and advancements over the past year" from the entries the magazine receives. The chief criterion for winning the award is the potential to “change people's lives for the better.”

Of the R&D 100 Awards won by Berkeley Lab this year, one went to Transition Metal Switchable Mirrors, a technology for coating a glass surface with a thin film made from an alloy of magnesium and one or more transition metals, such as nickel or manganese. This film enables the glass to be reversibly converted from a reflecting to a transparent surface through either an electrical charge or exposure to hydrogen gas. As the film can be programmed to respond to sunlight passing through a glass window, its wide use represents billions of dollars that could be save each year. The heating and cooling lost through windows are estimated to cost U.S. consumers about $9.3 billion annually.

The switchable mirrors technology was invented by Tom Richardson and Jonathan Slack, of Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division. By using transition metals rather than the rare earth metals used in the current crop of electrochromic windows, Richardson and Slack were able to significantly lower the costs of the windows, as well as add the capability to reflect and absorb both visible and infrared light. Among the possible applications of this technology, in addition to glass windows in buildings, are sunroofs and space missions. Already, Richardson and Slack are working with two major window companies to get the switchable mirrors to the marketplace.

Switchable mirror
Transition-metal switchable mirror windows vary from transparency to heat and light, like the top half of this sample, to being almost wholly reflective, as at bottom.

The other award-winning technology won’t be available on the market any time soon, but its enormous potential stands in stark contrast to its incredibly tiny size. Called a “synthetic rotational nanomotor,” this device was constructed under the leadership of physicist Alex Zettl, who holds a joint appointment with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and the University of California’s Berkeley campus. The first nanomotor Zettl and his colleagues built consisted of a gold paddle-shaped rotor blade, measuring between 100 and 300 nanometers in length, that was connected to a carbon nanotube shaft less than 10 nanometers thick. This first motor was about 300 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, and the technology behind it allows for future versions to be made even smaller – perhaps as much as five times smaller.

The synthetic rotational nanomotor has been clocked at 33,000 cycles per second and is believed to be capable of speeds approaching one billion rotations per second. Because the carbon and carbon bonds connecting the rotor blade to the shaft are practically frictionless, the motor can run indefinitely without wearing down. It is also rugged enough to withstand the harshest of environmental conditions, including extreme temperatures and radiation.

Potential applications of the nanomotor technology include bio and environmental sensors, cell phones, PDAs, optics, airbags, tire sensors, digital pens, blood pressure monitors, extremely “smart” sub-woofers and antenna alignment. The technology should also find a broad range of applications in the field of cosmology for the exploration of deep space.

Berkeley Lab’s R&D 100 Award-winning technologies were nominated by the Laboratory’s Technology Transfer Department. All winners of the 2004 award will receive a plaque at R&D Magazine’s annual awards banquet in October and a write-up in both the print and online version of the magazine.

Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California. Visit our Website at www.lbl.gov/.

Additional Information

More information about the Transition Metal Switchable Mirrors
More information about the synthetic rotational nanomotor
More information about Berkeley Lab’s Technology Transfer Department

Source: Berkeley Lab

Explore further: IHEP in China has ambitions for Higgs factory

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Designing exascale computers

4 hours ago

"Imagine a heart surgeon operating to repair a blocked coronary artery. Someday soon, the surgeon might run a detailed computer simulation of blood flowing through the patient's arteries, showing how millions ...

A spark of new energy in Africa

Jun 25, 2014

Grace Wu and Ranjit Deshmukh grow vegetables in their garden, bicycle to school each day, and are rarely seen in clothes more formal than blue jeans and t-shirts. Though they seem to live a quiet life, these ...

Engineering an affordable exoskeleton

Jun 12, 2014

When soccer's World Cup—the most-watched sports event on Earth—kicks off June 12, Berkeley professor Homayoon Kazerooni and his research assistants won't be watching the players. They'll be staring at ...

Recommended for you

IHEP in China has ambitions for Higgs factory

14 hours ago

Who will lay claim to having the world's largest particle smasher?. Could China become the collider capital of the world? Questions tease answers, following a news story in Nature on Tuesday. Proposals for ...

The physics of lead guitar playing

16 hours ago

String bends, tapping, vibrato and whammy bars are all techniques that add to the distinctiveness of a lead guitarist's sound, whether it's Clapton, Hendrix, or BB King.

The birth of topological spintronics

17 hours ago

The discovery of a new material combination that could lead to a more efficient approach to computer memory and logic will be described in the journal Nature on July 24, 2014. The research, led by Penn S ...

The electric slide dance of DNA knots

20 hours ago

DNA has the nasty habit of getting tangled and forming knots. Scientists study these knots to understand their function and learn how to disentangle them (e.g. useful for gene sequencing techniques). Cristian ...

User comments : 0