The development of a new form of metallic glass by Canadian engineers could pave the way for the development of new types of smart windows embedded with advanced electronic capabilities.

The material produced by engineers at the University of British Columbia possesses even greater transparency than conventional forms of glass, and could potentially be embedded with a range of electronic functions due to its conductive metallic coating.

According Loic Markley, assistant professor of engineering at UBC, the glass was developed by reversing the approach employed by ongoing research efforts into the production of more transparent forms of metal.

“It’s been known for quite a while that you could put glass on metal to make metal more transparent, but people have never put metal on top of glass to make glass more transparent,” said Markley. “It’s counter-intuitive to think that metal could be used to enhance light transmission, but we saw that this was actually possible, and our experiments are the first to prove it.”

The engineers used extremely thin layers of metals such as silver to coat the surface of small samples of glass, conferring them with a heightened level of transparency that permits the transmission of as much as 10 per cent more light.

In addition to enhanced transparency, the presence of a conductive metallic coating on the surface of the material means that it can be installed with a variety of advanced electronic functions.

The UBC team is now investigating the use of the material to create windows that can control the ingress of light or heat depending upon external weather conditions – a primary area of research for ongoing smart window development.

According to UBC associate professor and lead investigator Kenneth Chau, the ability to embed fully transparent glass with electronic functionality also paves the way for dramatic advances in smart windows.

“Engineers are constantly trying to expand the scope of materials that they can use for display technologies, and having thin, inexpensive, see-through components that conduct electricity will be huge,” he said. “I think one of the most important implications of this research is the potential to integrate electronic capabilities into windows and make them smart.”

These capabilities could include transforming windows into huge display screens for everything from movies and broadcast TV programs to decorative still images and real-time data on external weather conditions.