Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder are developing a way to use liquid crystals to make windows more efficient. These are the same crystals used in many flat-screen TVs and similar displays. Professors Ivan Smalyukh and Ronggui Yang (pictured) head a team at CU-Boulder’s Smalyukh Research Group, a lab that works primarily with what it calls “soft condensed matter and optical physics.” Their liquid crystal research led them to develop a coating they hope can be applied to older windows, increasing insulating properties without a need to replace the actual glass. Earlier this year, the team received a $1.8-million grant from the US Department of Energy for the development of the coating material. The concept uses an ultralight aerogel, in which the liquid in liquid crystals is replaced with air. The resulting substance is made up of cellulose and air, and can be applied to windows, creating a transparent insulating barrier. “The material will be lightweight, insulating, mechanically stable, flexible and inexpensive,” said Smalyukh. Adding to the environmentally friendly nature, the researchers say the aerogel is developed from cellulose recycled from food industry waste. According to the CU-Boulder team, the coating will reduce energy loss from old single-pane windows by 50 percent. Their goal is to develop the product so that application is simple, and homeowners can perform the task themselves. “Buildings consume about 40 percent of the energy expended annually in the United States,” said Yang. “We think we can dramatically increase the energy efficiency of windows without compromising transparency and other functions.”