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August 27, 2012

Glass innovation for better workplaces

Construction Corner | Korky Koroluk

The many and varied technologies associated with construction are evolving at a breakneck pace. And, for the most part, they are going largely unnoticed. ..dPeer through the holes in the hoardings around any construction site and things look much as they have for the last 10, 20, 30 years. But, in many unseen ways, there have been big changes.

Perhaps it’s in the concrete mix being used. Maybe it’s the rebar. Maybe it’s the use of light pipes or light shelves to contribute to natural indoor lighting. Maybe it’s the green roof. Maybe it’s the glass in the windows.

Much of the time, the innovative technology we see in action is only about building better, quicker and more sustainably.

Sometimes, though, it’s about body chemistry.

Korky Koroluk

Construction Corner

Korky Koroluk

Consider the glass in the windows, and picture yourself sitting at your desk near a closed window. Then think how refreshing it would be if you could open the window to admit fresh air.

We know that building occupants like operable windows, even though energy-conscious engineers don’t. But opening a window makes the room and its occupants feel fresher, even if the room may not cool perceptibly.

Why? Well, at least part of the reason is that ordinary glass windows don’t let in the optimum amount of blue light that’s part of sunlight’s spectrum. And blue light —especially in one narrow part of that spectrum, contributes to our over-all sense of well-being.

Blue light, it seems, makes us feel better because it helps us regulate our bodies’ melatonin levels. There’s a nerve connection between our eyes and our brain that has receptors that are sensitive to blue light.

Those receptors send signals to the part of the brain that controls melatonin. When we don’t get enough blue light, we might produce unusually high levels of melatonin. The problem is most pronounced during the dark days of winter, when high melatonin can lead to depression from the condition called seasonal affective disorder.

Because we have only recently become aware of the need for blue light in our living and working environments, the scientists at Germany’s Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, have developed a new glass that’s especially good at transmitting blue light.

It features an almost imperceptible coating just a tenth of a micrometer thick that lets more blue light pass through.

Fraunhofer is an organization whose full German name translates as the Fraunhofer Society for the advancement of applied research. It does that through 60 institutes spread throughout Germany, each focusing on different fields of applied science.

Jorn Probst, a Fraunhofer researcher, said the coating “helps people to feel they can perform better and makes it less likely they will fall ill.”

“Nobody’s ever made glass like this before,” said Walther Glaubitt, an engineer at the Fraunhofer Institute of Silicate Research. “It makes you feel as if the window is permanently open.”

That’s because the new glass lets about 80 per cent of the blue light through without affecting a window’s heat-insulating properties.

The glass is coming to market soon in the form of a triple-glazed window called VITAL Feel-Good Glass.

Already, Glaubitt’s team is working to improve the product by admitting even more blue light

“Up to now,” he said, “We’ve only applied our special coating to the side of the glass facing into the cavity between panes. In future we will also be coating the outer surfaces as well.”

That, he said, should bring transmission of the blue light up to about 95 per cent.

We don’t know yet what the price will be, although innovation is rarely cheap. But if employees feel better, and need less sick time, the glass bodes well for productivity.

And since healthy, happy employees stay with their company, firms that install the new glass might find themselves hiring less often.

Korky Koroluk is a regular freelance contributor to the Journal of Commerce. Send comments or questions to editor@journalofcommerce.com.

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