Texas researchers push technology further with technique to measure the invisible
A Texas researcher working to measure the invisible could be paving the way to new technology that affects the day to day life of everyone. Texas A&M chemical engineering professor Dr. Jodie Lutkenhaus says the thin film technology she's working with offers a wave of innovations that include things like surfaces that change color with the click of a button or even window coatings that block out heat.
Think of that the next time you crawl into your steam hot car that's been left out in the sun for eight hours. This kind of technology could actually be part of your car windows, blocking all that excess heat. Instead of 30 degrees hotter, your dashboard could even be cool to the touch in the middle of summer without even touching your air conditioner.
The problem is measuring something so thin. Lutkenhaus says the polymers needed "are incredibly thin. They're 100 nanometers in thickness, which is far smaller than a human hair." That's an understatement to say the least, because a human hair is about 100,000 nonometers wide.
That's where her research comes into play. Lutkenhaus is using a method known as "quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation." She's developed a way to coat one of those quartz crystals with these microthin polymers and then measure the vibrations to learn key attributes, like at what temperature the material begins to melt. She's says "this can measure nanograms, so this could probably measure the mass of like a butterfly's antenna."
Once researchers can accurately measure and learn to manipulte these virtually invisible layers, Lutkenhaus says they could be used for a wide range of additional applications beyond just heat reflecting windows. Thin film coatings could potentially lead to technology like self-cleaning surfaces, flexible batteries and even light-refracting camoflage.