Have scientists solved the age-old issue of steamed-up specs?

    There’s nothing worse than foggy specs. Whether you’re wearing a mask or taking your favourite dish out of the oven, the age-old issue of steamed-up glasses can be infuriating and uncomfortable. 

    Since the Covid-19 pandemic, steamed-up specs have become an issue that commuters and city dwellers deal with on a daily basis. As mask-wearing becomes the social norm, especially in the winter months, a mixture of cold air circulation and warm breath released up through the mask is a recipe for a spectacle disaster.

    In fact, a recent study from Cooper vision found that 8 of 10 people experience glasses fogging as a result of wearing a mask in 2023.

     scientists solved the age-old issue of steamed-up specs

    (Image Source: Cooper Vision)


    The study found that 86% of glasses wearers experience some form of condensation build-up, while 87% of those who also wore contact lenses saw an increase in steamed-up lenses.

    The question is, how do we reduce the effects of optical lens condensation? Scientists at ETH Zurich believe that they have found the solution to our steamed-up specs. After releasing their newest project in 2022, could frame-based heat conduction be the answer we’ve been looking for?

    Why do our glasses steam up?

    Optical lens steaming may have reached its peak during the Covid-19 pandemic, but it’s an issue eyeglasses wearers have battled against for decades.

    The question is, why do our specs fog so easily? According to Frames Direct, “condensation occurs on eyeglass lenses when water vapour—from your sweat, breath, and ambient humidity—lands on a cold surface, cools, and then changes into tiny drops of liquid, forming a film that you see as fog.”

    Therefore, when we wear masks, the warm vapour from our breath travels up, and you’ve guessed it, straight onto our glasses. While many invest in anti-fog spays, most products on the market minimise the symptoms od an underlying issue.

    As eyeglasses giants such as Warby Parker and Oakley learn how to create fog-free frames, the end of the tunnel looks bright, however, scientists at ETH Zurich are taking spec steaming one step further. 

    Have scientists found a solution?

    A group of Swiss scientists at ETH Zurich have created and developed a special gold coating that aims to reduce lens fogging in 2023.

    Taking a different approach from many developers, ETH Professors Dimos Poulikakos and Thomas Schutzius are using solar energy to power their newest invention.

    “We have developed an ultrathin, gold-based transparent coating that is able to convert sunlight into heat. It can be applied to glass and other surfaces to prevent them from fogging. Applications for the new coating include eyewear and car windshields.” ETH revealed in their press statement.

    “What’s special about the new coating is that it absorbs solar radiation selectively. Half of the energy contained in sunlight resides in the infrared spectrum, the other half in the visible light and UV radiation spectrum,” developers claimed.

    Better still, the whole invention remains just 10 nanometers thick, meaning that while gold is expensive to manufacture, a little will go a long way. Scientists at ETH hope that their newest research will inspire eyeglasses giants to partner with them during their lens manufacturing process. 

    Using energy from the sun

    Using the sun to power their product, ETH believes that the absorbed energy could encourage the gold coating to reach 8 degrees celsius, which in turn would heat the surface of the lens, especially during the summer months.

    However, while this may work well in the warmer period, low sun in the winter months could be a drawback, according to experts at Gizmodo. If the coating draws in solar energy, darker months could be an issue when it comes to heating the product effectively. 

    However, thanks to the conduction qualities of gold, ETH doctoral student Iwan Hächler reassures that heating in the colder months will not be an issue. 

    A new solar energy source?

    As we sit within an energy crisis, solar energy sources are becoming more popular amongst both manufacturers and consumers across the globe.

    The question is, could scientists that gold coating one step further? It could be interesting to see it applied to new products such as lasers, sensors, and even car windshields. With such a small amount of gold coating needed, this could be the low-cost solution solar energy pioneers have been looking for.

    While it may not conduct enough power to produce household electricity, it’s tipped to solve more issues that just steamed up specs in the future.