Smart Windows and Ultrathin Plates: 2016 Y-Prize Kicks Off

Smart Windows and Ultrathin Plates: 2016 Y-Prize Kicks Off

Each year, Engineering, Wharton and the Penn Center for Innovation come together for an invention competition known as the Y-Prize. Unlike the XPRIZE, where competitors come up with novel technologies to solve a particular problem, the Y-Prize starts with the technologies and challenges entrants to find commercial applications they are particularly suited for.

At stake: $10,000 to help get the winning idea out of the lab and into the market. The contest began on Monday, September 26 with a kick-off event at Huntsman Hall, though entries are not due until November 6.

Any Penn student can form a team and brainstorm a startup company that makes use this year’s set of technologies, both of which operate at the nanoscale: the world of materials and devices that are on the range of a billionth of a meter.

Smart Windows

Shu Yang, professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, designs nanostructures that come together to form useful patterns and textures.

One such project is a flexible “smart window” that can change opacity and color when stretched. Consisting of clear silicone sheets embedded with nanoscopic glass beads, stretching the window changes the spacing between those beads, allowing air pockets to form. This produces structural color effects, not unlike the ones found on the wings of butterflies.

Ultrathin Plates

Igor Bargatin, Class of 1965 Term Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, makes nanoscale plates that are so light, thin and strong that they can effectively levitate: the temperature differential caused by shining a laser on one side is enough to coax them into the air.

Nanomaterials this thin are typically floppy films; the corrugation found in Bargatin’s plates make them rigid enough to be picked up by hand and return to their original shape after being bent and twisted.