Science May Have a Remedy for Your Fogged-Up Glasses

Researchers say an invisible, super-thin coating of gold could keep lenses heated, fogginess at bay
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 18, 2022 2:00 PM CST
Fogged-Up Glasses, Begone, With ... Gold?
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Javier Ruiz)

If you wear eyeglasses, you're unwillingly part of a select club that experiences a particular annoyance whenever the weather gets cold or you have to don a face mask: glasses that fog up. Scientists out of Switzerland, however, are excited about what they say could be the solution to this pesky issue: a super-thin coating of gold, sandwiched between two layers of titanium oxide, then applied to the lenses' surface. Gizmodo relays the science behind the fogging-up phenomenon, explaining that when moisture from humid air (e.g., the air inside a warm grocery store, or your own breath wafting up from under your face mask) makes contact with the colder surface of your glasses, condensation results.

The Guardian notes there's anti-fog spray you can spray on your glasses that coats the surface with molecules that draw water droplets to them, evenly distributing them "to make an even, see-through surface." And in cars, where windows also fog up in cold weather, thin embedded wires or heat blasting from the vents takes care of the issue. But in an abstract published Monday in the Nature Nanotechnology journal, a research team says they have a less intrusive, more efficient remedy: an invisible gold "nanocoating" that harnesses sunlight to keep the glasses heated and fog at bay, per a release.

The gold coating, once placed between the titanium oxide layers to keep it electrically insulated, is just 10 nanometers thick‚ rendering it transparent to the human eye (this video explains just how small a nanometer is). That means the anti-fog coating is not only less wasteful than more sophisticated heating solutions, and it also won't mar the eyeglasses's aesthetics. Gizmodo notes there are shortcomings to the coating: During the winter months, when it gets darker earlier, there isn't as much sunlight to draw in to "power" the coating. Plus, gold remains one of the most coveted materials on Earth for electronics, leading to demand and cost issues.

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Still, the researchers say that the way the gold particles are laid out in the coating lends itself to efficient energy conduction, "so in the absence of sunlight, it would still be possible to use electricity to heat the coating." And there's such a small amount of gold being used to make the coating that the cost wouldn't be prohibitive; the scientists are also looking into alternative metals that might do the job of absorbing heat just as well. Meanwhile, concerns about cars with this technology overheating in the summer are also allayed. The Swiss research team says that during warmer months, the coating would absorb the sun's infrared rays and keep the inside of the car cooler than if it didn't have the coating. (More discoveries stories.)

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