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Industrial Analytical Instrumentation

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Going green - liquid crystal research using a Linkam Peltier stage
aids in the development of smart energy windows at RavenBrick

Market leaders in temperature controlled microscopy, Linkam Scientific Instruments report on the use of their PE120 stage and Imaging Station in the development of smart energy windows at RavenBrick LLC in the USA.

Since 2006, a small start-up solar technology company, RavenBrick based in Denver, Colorado, has been working on various processes to take them to the forefront of the booming solar technology market through helping builders and architects respond to the energy challenges of the future with green building materials. The company manufactures smart windows which use thermochromatic filter technology to help regulate the temperature of a building by saving energy costs and reducing glare from sunlight. These windows automatically control the amount of light, heat and glare that passes through the glass by using a special set of filters made of liquid crystals that change phase depending on the amount of solar energy exerted on them. The use of these filters allows for the windows to smoothly transition from a clear state to a tinted state when the external conditions necessitate the need for this. As more and more companies and homeowners are pushing to become greener, for both the environmental and economic benefits, it seems very likely that more research and investment into these smart windows will become essential in the next generation of energy efficient construction solutions.

Picture 1. The Linkam PE120 system mounted on a Linkam Imaging Station for the study of liquid crystal coatings.

Picture 2. Dr Wilder Iglesias of RavenBrick with his Linkam PE120 system used to study liquid crystal optical coatings.

RavenBrick's R&D manager, Dr Wilder Iglesias, has been using a Linkam PE120 system including an Imaging Station and Linksys 32 software to help with the manufacture and advancement of products. With this simple-to-use thermoelectrically cooled stage, he is able to study the quality and refine the composition of the liquid crystals that are used in their windows. Speaking of his work, Dr Iglesias says "My company, RavenBrick LLC, manufactures smart windows based on liquid crystal (LC) technology. The window tints if the temperature is too hot, blocking solar energy from penetrating the building/house and clears when the temperature is low, allowing the sun energy to heat up the building. The tinting of our windows depends on the LC phase sequence, thus we use the Linkam stage for two purposes: One is to qualify incoming liquid crystal material and two, for finding the right mix of LC to have the appropriate phase transitions depending on the weather profile of the place of installation and/or comfort factor from the customer."

Aside from the stage, Dr Iglesias and his team have also found the Linksys32 software to be invaluable to their research. "I love the Linksys32 software and the way it presents the information for past runs. Being a software developer for this type of instruments, I really appreciate the simplicity and how powerful the Linksys32 software is."

He added: "In some sense we use the Linkam system as a visual differential scanning calorimeter (DSC), by monitoring the intensity changes on the Real Time Chart of the Linksys32 software, where a large intensity variation implies a phase transition on the material."

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Chinese user groups' use  the TST350 tensile temperature
stage to study the crystallinity properties of biodegradable polymers

Linkam Scientific Instruments, report on the use of their temperature controlled tensile stage at various Chinese laboratories for the research into biodegradable plastics.

Global demand for environmentally friendly materials has increased drastically over the last few years making it a multi-billion pound industry. This in turn has driven the demand for the production and research into biodegradable plastics such as poly(butylene succinate), PBS. Teams from Beijing National Laboratory, Beijing Key Laboratory of Clothing Materials and Tianjin University in China have been looking into the structural characteristics of these plastics to see how they are affected by tensile forces.

PBS, is a thermoplastic polymer which has very similar properties to polypropylene but the most important difference is that PBS is biodegradable. Due to the fact that PBS naturally decomposes into carbon dioxide and water, it is much more of an environmentally friendly alternative to other common plastics. The array of applications and products in which PBS could potentially be used seems endless. It has already been earmarked as a potential biodegradable drug delivery capsule or as a replacement for polypropylene disposable cutlery, but so far, its biggest use is in the field of food packaging as an eco-smart alternative to the hazardous wrapping that is currently used on most foodstuffs.

As always, with the growing popularity and necessity of such products, a lot of behind-the-scenes research needs to be carried out in order to ensure that the materials are fit for purpose. The teams in China have been using a Linkam TST350 tensile stage to look at the properties of these materials. In particular, the stage has been used to observe the recoverability of structural parameters once a force had been applied to it.

The researchers were interested to see how the alternatively packed crystalline and amorphous layers of the semi-crystalline polymer behave during the deformation of the plastic caused by stretching it. The stage was used in conjunction with an X-Ray synchrotron to observe the polymer when subjected to stretching experiments whilst accurately controlling the temperature of the sample at various temperatures between 20 °C and 200 °C.

The team found that the equipment was "…small and easy to set up, which allowed us to use it in combination with an optical microscope or synchrotron". They also added that "The displacement control was surprisingly good" and that the TST350 was the only example of a tensile hot-stage that they have ever come across.

The importance of understanding the processes that occur in the deformation of these materials is vital in the search for a perfect biodegradable material. The research being carried out on such materials will hopefully help us become less and less reliant on the use of everyday which are taking a large toll on the already stretched environment.

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Refer to page 973

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