This Glass Is So Smart, It Can Play `Name That Chemical'

Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles have developed a high-tech version of tinted glass. Called "smart glass," it changes color in the presence of certain chemicals. That could make it useful for environmental monitoring or as a diagnostic tool in medicine.

The UCLA scientists start with a glassmaking solution, then add highly selective enzymes or proteins that change color in the presence of particular chemicals. As the solution sets, spaghetti-like strands of glass grow and surround the large proteins, says Bruce S. Dunn, a materials scientist at UCLA. The finished glass is porous enough to let in small gas molecules such as oxygen and carbon monoxide. These react with the protein, causing the color change.

Dunn says that eventually the smart glass could be used to monitor gases in the atmosphere. And if made into optical fibers, it could detect levels of gases in the bloodstream.

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