Australian scientists have designed a new nanomaterial that can reflect or transmit light on demand with temperature control.

While the invention – developed by a research team at Australian ­National University (ANU) – is aimed to protect astronauts from harmful radiation, lead researcher Mohsen Rahmani explains that the material is so thin that hundreds of layers could fit on the tip of a needle. The technology has the potential to be applied to any surface, including to common building materials.

Co-researcher associate professor, Andrey Miroshnichenko, says the nanomaterial could be tailored for other light spectrums, including visible light; a further demonstration of its potential to be used in myriad applications. This includes in architectural projects and energy-saving initiatives.  

"For instance, you could have a window that can turn into a mirror in a bathroom on demand, or control the amount of light passing through your house windows in different seasons," says Miroshnichenko.

Additionally, it could also achieve cost-efficient and confined temperature control, such as local heating.

"Much like your car has a series of parallel resistive wires on the back windscreen to defog the rear view, a similar arrangement could be used with our invention to confine the temperature control to a precise location," says co-lead researcher, Lei Xu.

According to current projections, the nanomaterial could be ready for use in two to three years.