Jungiao Wu and graduate students in the lab

Jungiao Wu and graduate students in the lab. (Photo by Marilyn Chung/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

The rule-breaker

Berkeley has long been known as an unconventional place. So it’s fitting that scientists here recently identified an outlier in the materials world. The study, led by Junqiao Wu, professor of materials science and engineering, found that electrons in the metal vanadium dioxide can conduct electricity without conducting heat, unlike most other metals. The team also learned that they could control the metal’s ability to conduct electricity and heat by mixing it with other materials. Another bonus: vanadium dioxide is transparent below 30°C and absorbs infrared light above 60°C. The researchers anticipate a wide range of potential applications for this technology, including thermoelectric systems that convert waste heat from engines and appliances into electricity, as well as window coatings that improve the energy efficiency of buildings.

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