Physicists from several U.S. labs have clocked the transition of vanadium dioxide nanoparticles from a transparent to a reflective, mirror-like state, at less than 100 femtoseconds (a tenth of a trillionth of a second). According to this Vanderbilt University report, this effect has a size limit: "it does not occur in particles that are smaller than about 20 atoms across (10 nanometers)." This opens the door - if I can say so - to windows that are transparent at low temperatures and block out sunlight when the temperature rises. But other applications are possible, such as nanosensors which could measure the temperature at different locations within human cells, or "ultrafast" optical switches which could be used in communications and optical computing.
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