Roderich Wallrath and Fabian Marischen have been conducting research into sputter technology in a workshop at Gerresheimer Essen GmbH since August. Sputter technology is a chemical process for coating glass. The coating gives the glass new properties, such as better light transmissivity, which is useful for applications such as car windscreens. It allows windscreen or roof light glass to adapt to sunlight strength. The coated glass is called switchable or smart glass because it ‘intelligently’ adapts to environmental conditions.
“We don’t get asked every day if we’d be willing to support a youth research project. And this is a project that we believed was worth supporting because we’re the glass experts. We were also very impressed to see how enthusiastically these two young men went about their research,” said Bruno Bürkel, Executive Vice President of Gerresheimer Primary Packaging Glass.
After an initial chat so they could get to know one another, the Gerresheimer Essen team provided the two young researchers with expert advice, a workshop, the connection technology they needed for their apparatus and, naturally, the glass.
Fascinated by science
As is so often the case in life, Roderich Wallrath and Fabian Marischen stumbled upon their research topic by accident. “We think this is a really interesting subject because you can see the connection between the theories that you come up with to explain everything and the effect that is visible without a microscope or anything else,” explained Wallrath. In science, these kinds of processes often have to be verified in some kind of detailed diagram, or expressed in figures based on complex measurements. But the effects of this phenomenon are so obvious and striking that it’s fun to reproduce and conduct research into them.
Sputter technology explained in simple terms
This is how sputter technology works. If you take an airtight container and fill it with a certain gas rather than air, you can illuminate the gas by exposing it to electrical current. That’s how a neon light works, for example. The illuminated gas is called plasma. By setting the electricity or current properly, you can displace the plasma to any position you want. For example, you can displace it to an object inside the container. One of the properties of plasma is that it very slowly erodes a tiny part of the material that is close to it. Then, if you then hold a piece of glass in its path, the material that was eroded is deposited on the glass surface. This effect is called ‘sputtering’.
A few luxury automobiles currently have this kind of glass. However, it isn’t called electrochromic glass, but ‘smart glass’. Another application for smart glass is temperature regulation on building facades, though it is still very expensive.
The two young researchers hope to have concluded their project by December 2014.
Roderich Wallrath and Fabian Marischen conducting research at Gerresheimer.