How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 486

How do color-changing eyeglasses work?
These eyeglasses are made from a special photochromic glass that contains about 0.01% to 0.1% silver halide crystals. These crystals are transparent and so small that they leave the glass almost perfectly clear. But when the glasses are exposed to bright sunlight, which contains substantial amounts of ultraviolet light, the silver ions in those crystals are reduced to silver atoms and begin to form tiny silver particles inside the glass. Like the particles that form in black and white photography, these silver particles are so jagged and imperfect that they're light absorbing rather than shiny. The glasses thus darken when exposed to sunlight. But when the eyeglasses are returned to the dark, the halogen gas atoms recombine with the silver atoms and reform the silver halide crystals. The eyeglasses once again become clear. Incidentally, the glasses can also be rendered clear by exposing them to elevated temperatures, so a short time in the oven should help to clear them up if darkness alone doesn't do the trick. That assumes, of course, that you don't melt the frames, overheat the glass, or expose the glass to sudden thermal shocks.

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