To keep a room cool, just let the walls melt. That's the trick with National Gypsum's Thermalcore, wall panels that absorb and release heat to maintain a comfortable ambient temperature without air-conditioning. At the core of each panel are paraffin-wax capsules made by BASF. When the temperature climbs above 73 degrees, the paraffin melts, drawing in heat and slowing the rise — much as a melting ice cube "absorbs" the heat of warm water to cool it. If the room dips below 73 degrees, the wax turns to a solid, releasing the heat it absorbed earlier.
More than 100 million birds are killed each year by transparent to humans but visible to birds, because they can't discern the difference between a window's reflection and wide-open sky. It's not because birds have bad vision. In fact, birds can see both the spectrum that humans perceive and shorter-wavelength ultraviolet light. Arnold Glas adapted a solution from nature to better its windows: Certain spiders' webs have natural ultraviolet properties that are visible to birds, deterring wings from hitting webs. The company's Ornilux Bird Protection glass has a coating with UV patterns that are transparent to humans but visible to birds. During testing, bird injuries dropped by 75%.
By extracting silicon dioxide from sand and combining it with water or ethanol, German company Nanopool has essentially turned glass into a liquid that can be sprayed on anything from desks to clothes to statues, making surfaces antimicrobial and easy to clean. Quantum LiquiGlas is only 100 nanometers thick (about 500 times thinner than a human hair) and resistant to bacteria because the material's chemical properties make cell growth difficult. LiquiGlas is already being used on hospital surfaces in the U.K. and at a meat-processing factory in Germany. It will hit the U.S. market later this year.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.