Researchers create light-activated ‘curtains’

According to a January 9 news release from the University of California – Berkeley (UC Berkeley), a team of researchers led by Ali Javey, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, has created a material that rapidly responds to light. The material, created by layering carbon nanotubes onto a plastic polycarbonate membrane, absorbs light, converts it into heat, and then transfers the heat to the membrane’s surface.  As the plastic expands in response to the heat, the nanotube layer remains rigid, causing the layered material to twist.

“The [advantage] of this new class of photo-reactive actuator is that it is very easy to make, and it is very sensitive to low-intensity light,” said Javey, who is also a faculty scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.  “The light from a flashlight is enough to generate a response.”

The complete research findings appear in a paper recently published in the journal Nature Communications.  The researchers were able to adjust the size and chirality of the nanotubes to make the material respond to different wavelengths of light.  The strips of material the researchers created, called “smart curtains,” could bend or straighten in response to the flick of a light switch.

“We envision these in future smart, energy-efficient buildings,” said Javey.  “Curtains made of this material could automatically open or close during the day.”

The researchers envision other potential applications for the “smart curtains,” including light-driven motors and robotics that move toward or away from light.

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