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A new, super-insulating gel developed by researchers at CU Boulder could dramatically increase the energy efficiency of skyscrapers and other buildings, and might one day help scientists build greenhouse-like habitats for colonists on Mars.

The "aerogel," which looks like a flattened plastic contact lens, is so resistant to heat that you could put a strip of it on your hand and a fire on top without feeling a thing. But unlike similar products on the market, the material is mostly see-through.

"Transparency is an enabling feature because you can use this gel in windows, and you could use it in extraterrestrial habitats," said Ivan Smalyukh, a professor in the Department of Physics. "You could harvest sunlight through that thermally-insulating material and store the energy inside, protecting yourself from those big oscillations in temperature that you have on Mars or on the moon."

The group's gel is also cheaper to produce because it comes from humble beginnings: beer waste.

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Category: Science