Illustrations by Shingo Shimizu

Practical Advances in Everyday Living

Breakthroughs in materials science mean greener, cleaner, and safer spaces. We take a closer peek at three that amaze.

Material World

Heat-Releasing Walls

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.

Bird-Friendly Windows

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%.

Material World

Liquid Glass

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.

Illustrations by Shingo Shimizu

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  • Paige

    "During testing, bird injuries dropped by 75%."? so they put a bunch of birds in a room with windows to see how many birds would maim themselves?

  • Ama Rama

    Liquid glass sound like a great idea. I bet in 2 years some asshole will start saying it gives you cancer. 

  • Jarrad Newman

     Yeah like those arseholes who told us that cigarettes cause cancer. Or DDT. Or Asbestos. Wankers.

  • Dr_mabeuse

    No need to wait. Inhalation of glass dust causes silicosis, a lung disease that's been known since ancient times. I'm sure these German scientists have taken that into account.

  • Summerlee

    Haha, yes the houses are candles. They have wicks sticking out all over so you can easily burn through the rest of the wall into the inside. Paraffin isn't flammable.

  • Dr_mabeuse

    Paraffin is quite flammable. Most candles these days are made of paraffin. Paraffin is the common name for straight-chain hydrocarbons (alkanes) which are solid at room temperature. In a candle, the heat from the flame melts the paraffin which is drawn up the wick and feeds the flame. 

  • james FC

    " Quantum LiquiGlas is only 100 nanometers thick (about 500 times thinner than a human hair)"

    How can something be 500 times thinner????

    Shouldn't it be 1/500th the thickness of . . . ?

    (puts soapbox away)

  • Sanjay Bhasker

    Paraffin filled walls. Awesome lets turn our houses into candles, that makes sense right.