Smart glass for the Globe

The skylight at the top of the Globe of Science and Innovation has recently been fitted with adjustable "smart" glass. The new glazing makes the light intensity in the auditorium adjustable, which solves the problem of sunlight reflecting on the big screen during the day.

Inaugurated in 2004, the Globe of Science and Innovation has become one of CERN's key landmarks. Housing the permanent exhibition "The Universe of Particles" (which recently received a silver design award) and a multimedia auditorium, the Globe hosts many events every year. "The Globe has rapidly become an important communications tool for CERN," says Bernard Pellequer, who is in charge of event planning for the venue. "This is particularly true for the first floor, which is equipped with a giant screen. Unfortunately, we soon realized that the magnificent skylight, which is one of the Globe's most striking features, rendered the screen unusable during the daytime since light coming through the skylight made it impossible to see what was on screen."

The Globe's managers turned to Smart Glass International, an Irish company that uses suspended-particle technology to make adjustable "SPD Smart Glass".

The skylight can now be made light or dark at the flick of a switch. "When no voltage is applied, the suspended particles are arranged in a random pattern, blocking the passage of light," says Pellequer. "When the electrical supply is switched on, the suspended particles align and let light pass. We can control the amount of light coming through the roof by simply turning the power on or off."

The glazing company paid two visits to CERN, the first in October 2011 to measure the dome and sides of the skylight 18 metres up in the roof, and the second in December to fit the 50 square metres of SPD glass. The result was a triumph of technology - the materials had previously only been fitted in luxury cars.

"Aside from purely practical considerations, we had to make sure that we didn’t change the atmosphere of the Globe or spoil its architectural beauty," says Pellequer. "The new technology meets all these criteria. It's also consistent with the message of science and innovation we want to convey," he says. "The screen now has an excellent contrast, so our goal has been achieved – in the smartest way you could imagine!"