Tuesday, March 27, 2007

See The World Through Rose-Tinted Lenses, Or Any Other Color You Wish!

The other day I was talking with a couple co-workers in the hall as they were preparing to leave work. They put on their Transitions sunglasses and complained about how they weren't changing back and forth very well anymore from clear to dark. "Yeah," said one, "when they get about a year old they slow down in their change rate and it takes too long. They slow down when it gets cold, too."

At this point I remembered watching a sci-fi movie called The Man Who Fell To Earth, staring David Bowie. I wouldn't call the movie excellent, but it has a cult following. It's from Bowie's glam days, after all, back in 1976. Bowie plays an alien (no stretch there!) who has come to Earth in an effort to save his dying family, who waits for rescue back on his home planet. He fits into human society using a facial mask (decades before the Mission Impossible movies) and cosmetic contact lenses, and quickly becomes a wealthy entrepreneur by patenting inventions based on the technology of his home world. There were some interesting inventions in the story which have since come true: self-developing film, cosmetic contact lenses, music spheres (which play like CDs), and UV light-sensitive ("photochromic") sunglasses, like Transitions lenses. Bowie's character possesses a pair of these sunglasses. They protect his alien eyes against the harsh Earthly light, they allow him to see in other wavelengths, and, in the presence of sunlight OR at the press of a button, they turn from clear to dark or back again. I remember thinking how cool it would be to change at the touch of a button, and that we couldn't be technologically far from making it.

Now, once again, science fiction has become reality. In fact, it's even cooler:


A chemist named Chunye Xu and colleagues at the University of Washington in Seattle's Center for Intelligent Materials and Systems have invented photoelectric glass coatings that, at the touch of a button, can go from clear to any color you wish in just a second. Need your glasses to match your teal pumps? No problem. Just dial in the appropriate electrical signal to get the right color and darkness. The coatings are made of special polymers, and come in red, blue, and green. Combinations of these polymers can make just about any color. The color change happens with the application of a very small electrical charge from a small battery and a gold/silicone actuator, or can be stimulated by pH, temperature, or light changes depending on the formulation. They have a number of patents. Go HERE for a short PowerPoint presentation of the physical details. This technology will also be developed for goggle lenses, face shields, aircraft windshields, and office windows.

Eyeglasses should be available within a couple years. I'll be waiting for my pair. Ooh, wouldn't it be wicked to have the color and darkness change rapidly, on purpose, shifting color every few seconds? Or have each lens a different color? I wonder if you could have the lenses vary in color and intensity across their face? Could you apply this technology to home windows, or church windows, or Christmas ornaments, or my friggin' aquarium? You could do all sorts of gimmicky things, I imagine.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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