A Virginia Tech College of Science researcher plans to use extremely thin layers of fibers known as nanofibers to cover windows in buildings and cars in a multi-prong effort to cut energy consumption and reduce the often bright, blinding glare of the sun.

Guoliang “Greg” Liu, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, will use a five-year, $585,000 National Science Foundation CAREER award to employ polymer composites embedded with 2-D plasmonic nanoparticles as a thin layer over window panes and windshields that will have tunable transparency and color. In short, if Liu is successful, the days of getting into a hot car might be over.

“It can be translucent or any customized color, depending on the need of the customers,” Liu said. “It behaves like a permanent blind. Once it is on, it is always on.”

In addition to funding from the NSF, Liu also has received a total of $900,000 funding from the BIRD Foundation, an Israel-United States Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation established in 1977 by the governments of both countries to “promote mutually beneficial industrial research and development.” These funds will be shared between Liu and his research team on campus and a research collaborator at the private company Waves Audio Ltd., itself based in Israel.

Liu said he was inspired to tackle the project from his office at Hahn Hall South, which overlooks a parking lot and is itself a building with quite a bit of glass, which is costly to cool during summers and heat during winters. “I was thinking of ways to cut the energy consumption in my office and the cars in the parking lot,” he said. “The new polymer composites that we are developing will likely keep the offices and cars cool in summers and warm in winters.”

The thin layer of nanofibers will be layered on glass and can be modified from a control switch to dim or increase the amount of light allowed into a room or an automobile, depending on the needs of the user. The layer would not obstruct viewing, nor would it tint the glass.

The nanofibers can have multiple uses as well. As the plasmonic nanoparticles are designed to absorb light, the fibers could be used to make current solar cells more efficient, with captured light generating electrons to produce electric power. The fibers also can be used in the fields of communication as the material can bend or absorb radio waves.

“It can potentially bend radio signals to certain areas or directions,” Liu said. “These fibers possess attractive properties that thin films and bulk samples lack, for instance, large surface area, low density, high strength, and peripherally confined self-assembly.”

Liu is also an affiliated faculty member of the nanoscience program in the Academy of Integrated Science, part of the College of Science, and Macromolecules Innovation Institute, a research group within the Institute for Critical Technologies and Applied Science.

The CAREER grant is the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award, given to creative junior faculty considered likely to become academic leaders of the future. Liu is one of four College of Science faculty to receive a CAREER Award during the past year, with the other recipients being Julianne Chung of the Department of Mathematics, F. Marc Michel of the Department of Geosciences, and Kendra Sewall of the Department of Biological Sciences.

Related stories:

Mathematics' Julianne Chung to use NSF CAREER grant to help scientists obtain real-time solutions

Geosciences faculty member seeks to advance crystallization research to boost multiple fields

Neurobiologist receives NSF funding for animal cognition research, education, and outreach

Share this story