Greg Sotzing, professor of chemistry and a member of UConn’s Polymer Program, recently perfected a method for creating quick-changing, variable colors in films and displays, such as sunglasses. Sotzing and his colleagues have made these materials less expensive and less wasteful to manufacture than any previous method. And aside from creating vanity glasses, the technology is in high demand by the U.S. military. “This is the next big thing for transition lenses,” Sotzing says. The typical material behind a transition lens is what’s called a photochromic film, or a sheet of polymers that change color when light hits them. Sotzing’s new technology does things slightly differently– his electrochromic lenses are controlled by an electric current passing through them when triggered by a stimulus, such as light. The electric current allows the lens to change colors virtually instantaneously. This process could be very useful for the military, Sotzing says. For example, if a person emerges from a dark passageway and into the bright sunlight of the desert, a lens that would alter its color instantly to complement the surroundings could mean life or death for some soldiers. Currently, soldiers have to physically change the lenses in their goggles. In November 2010, partially based on work supported by the Center for Science and Technology Commercialization’s Prototype Fund, the UConn R&D Corp. started a company, called Alphachromics Inc., with Sotzing and colleague Michael Invernale—now a post-doctoral researcher at MIT—as founders. The University has a patent pending for this new technology, which is under option to the company. Alphachromics is also testing applications of these polymer systems for energy-saving windows and custom fabrics. Sotzing and Alphachromics are currently in talks with sunglass manufacturers. -Article adapted from UConn Today