Merck has made it a reality with its groundbreaking smart glass, creating eyrise™ Dynamic Liquid Crystal Windows
Humans need natural daylight – it is a fundamental part of our biology. Exposure to natural light has a whole host of health benefits, from promoting better sleep to improving our moods. Daylight supports the regulation of vitamin D, serotonin and melatonin in our bodies and promotes healthy eye development1.
Yet many of us now spend most of our day indoors, moving between our homes and offices. Modern architectural design has already begun to recognise the importance of letting natural light back into our lives, using glass in new and exciting ways. Large, often floor-to-ceiling windows help to bring in a feeling of the outside and of greater space.
However, while this helps to create light-filled buildings, it can also increase building temperatures and personal discomfort for those sitting in direct sunlight.
In particular, the need in offices to reduce glare on screens, control room temperatures or create private meeting spaces means we’re still using blinds and partitions – we’re shutting ourselves away from the outdoors and natural light.
Increased temperatures also create more demand for air conditioning, while the use of window blinds means relying on additional artificial light. All of this can considerably increase a building’s energy usage and environmental footprint.
Yet the business benefits of exposure to natural light are clear: office workers who sit near windows sleep on average for 46 minutes longer at night than those who don’t2, while workplaces with good levels of natural light benefit from productivity gains of up to 40%1.
This poses the question: how do we balance our need for natural light with the practical and environmental considerations of modern buildings?
You’re probably already familiar with liquid crystals. They are used in everything from mobile phones and televisions to microwave ovens and alarm clocks. They are best known for being used in LCDs – liquid crystal displays.
“As displays gain more and more space, and as the interfaces between people and information continue to develop, we can envision a future where windows are not just for letting in light or creating privacy, but have information and content displayed on them, too”
Yet liquid crystals have far wider applications. Merck has been working with them for more than 100 years – almost since their first discovery in 1888 – and our latest solutions have the potential to revolutionise the way we live and work.
“We’ve taken the technology from LCDs and made it more durable and more robust, so that we can use it in applications such as smart windows,” says Dr Ties De Jong, head of technology development for Merck’s eyrise™ liquid crystal windows team4.
The team, based in Veldhoven in the Netherlands, has developed intelligent glass that adapts to light conditions, creating instantly neutral-grey shading and temperature regulation. This is called ‘lightwellness’ – an always comfortable environment that preserves natural light and outside views.
It has also developed privacy glass, which can be used to create adaptive screening, allowing open, light-filled offices and homes to adapt to the inhabitants’ needs for private spaces without losing natural daylight.
This technology has set unprecedented standards for the use of smart glass in architecture. Not only does it enable architects to create buildings that promote well-being through natural lighting and outdoor views, it also gives them an important tool for accomplishing their creative vision by offering a whole range of shapes, sizes and colours.
Merck’s eyrise™ Instant Solar Shading windows contain a transparent liquid crystal mixture with dye molecules that can be neutral grey or tailored to colour needs. This mixture is placed between two glass sheets coated with a transparent conductive film.
At the flick of a switch, a low voltage causes the liquid crystals to instantly change their orientation, darkening the glass’ tint to reduce the amount of light and heat passing through.
However, the windows always remain transparent, so even when darkened, the windows allow natural light to pass through and the outside view is retained. The shading intensity can even be increased or decreased to fit with occupants’ needs at each and every moment.
Merck’s switchable privacy glass works in a similar way, this time using mixtures of cholesteric liquid crystals placed between glass sheets. These respond to a low voltage to turn a truly transparent window into one that is strongly light-scattering.
This adds an opalescent effect to the glass, which is no longer transparent, providing confidentiality on demand with the benefits of daylight.
“Our smart glass is changing the way people interact with the spaces in which they live and work”
The first large commercial architectural projects using eyrise™ Dynamic Liquid Crystal Windows are already under way. These include one of the last works of renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer – the Niemeyer Sphere, located at crane manufacturer Kirow’s headquarters in Leipzig, Germany.
Meanwhile, building firm FC-Gruppe’s new headquarters in Karlsruhe, Germany, will become the first structure to use liquid crystal windows across its whole facade.
But the use of liquid crystals in intelligent window glass also opens up exciting technological possibilities for the future.
“Our smart glass is changing the way people interact with the spaces in which they live and work,” says Dr Michael Grund, head of business field liquid crystal windows at Merck.
“As displays gain more and more space, and as the interfaces between people and information continue to develop, we can envision a future where windows are not just for letting in light or creating privacy, but have information and content displayed on them, too.”
Did you know?
Up to 40%: Workplaces with good levels of natural light benefit from productivity gains of up to 40%
~90%: We spend 80% to 90% of our time indoors3
1 second: eyrise™ Dynamic Liquid Crystal Windows can provide shading or privacy screening in just one second
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