A team of researchers at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering have developed a building material that can change how much heat it absorbs and emits based on the temperature outside, reports Elissaveta Brandon for Fast Company. The new material, which consists of an ultra-thin film, can change its infrared color and ability to emit infrared heat, allowing structures to regulate temperature on their own.

For example: When it’s very cold outside, the material can help keep the building warm by emitting only 7% of its infrared heat. When it’s very hot, it can keep the building cooler by emitting a whopping 92% of it. In theory, the system could be linked to your thermostat and whenever the temperature dips below, or rises above, a set number the system would use a tiny amount of electricity to automatically trigger the switch without you lifting so much as a finger.

This level of adaptability is made possible thanks to an electrochemical reaction. The material is only 0.5 millimeters thick, or 500th the width of human hair, but it consists of a fluid sandwiched between two solid layers. One of those layers is made of graphene (an ultra-thin layer of graphite, like the one that makes up your pencil lead). This highly conductive material is very good at transferring heat and electricity, but where the magic happens is in the middle fluid layer. This can take two radically different states: solid copper, which retains most of the infrared heat and acts like an insulating blanket, and a watery solution, which absorbs most of the infrared heat from your house then emits it outwards, keeping your building cool. The switch between the two states is where the chemical reaction occurs, triggered by electricity.

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