Most modern drivers take a large amount of things for granted. Seatbelts, headlights, rear-view mirrors, and countless other parts of automobiles that are today considered normal once did not exist.
Only with the help of innovators and creative minds did we come to enjoy the luxury and safety standards of modern automobiles, and one invention in particular stands out, given its peculiar backstory.
You may not think that tintable sunroofs have their origin in the 1800s, but recently published news indicates that tintable sunroofs are largely a product of a unique 19th century idea derived from chemist William Bird Herapath’s experiments.
Beating back the insufferable glare
We’ve all dealt with the frustration of driving our cars down the street only to be annoyed by the harsh glare of the sun or other nearby light sources. Glaring lights aren’t just annoying, either, but fundamentally dangerous – they can distract drivers and lead them into otherwise avoidable accidents.
The modern development of the sunroof and tintable glass that would keep us safe from this frustrating and dangerous byproduct of daylight has its origin in a peculiar tale from the 19th century, more commonly known as the 1800s.
A recent report from Car and Driver illustrates the details of the new 2020 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which features an electronically-manageable tintable sunroof. This sunroof makes use of a chemical compound called heraphite, which is sometimes alternatively labeled iodoquinine sulfate.
You may not realize it when you’re shopping for Van Isle Glass, but the truth of the matter is that modern tinting largely stems from a chemical process that was perfected because of an 18th century discovery that depended upon a dog and the analysis of its urine.
According to ChemMatters, an American magazine, the same heraphite that the new Mercedes uses is just a crystallized form of iodoquinine sulfate. This crystallized form was discovered by a British chemist by the name of William Bird Herapath – thus the name heraphite.
The full story is somewhat more complicated, as it was argued by ChemMatters that the discovery was actually uncovered by his assistant and pupil named Mr. Phelps, who dropped iodine into the urine of a dog after it had been fed quinine.
He discovered that little crystals formed in the urine. Herapath was informed of this discovery and did something quite brilliant – he observed the crystals under a microscope and discovered that they formed a new, previously unknown polarizing material that could block light.
How does this apply to us today?
You might still be wondering how a curious experiment involving dog urine and microscopes has given us tintable sunroofs in modern automobiles. Well, later on, a man by the name of Edward Land took note of Herapath and Mr. Phelps’ joint discoveries, and decided to study these crystals to determine if they could be used to create polarized materials for modern purposes.
Land boldly took a leave of absence from Harvard, potentially risking his academic and professional future, but was ultimately successful in his pursuits and returned triumphantly to find himself rewarded by Harvard with a laboratory to keep studying.
According to ChemMatters, Land was motivated by a desire to create glareless headlights, as he understood what trouble automobiles could cause when they blinded passersby and other drivers.
The second world war saw the acceleration of this research, as polarizing materials were necessary for the war effort. Before long, the crystals originally discovered in traces of dog urine became more understood and carefully developed – and these days, they reside within the sunroof of the new Mercedes.
Car and Driver has an excellent report on the new Mercedes that details the specific and very modern science behind this new, tintable sunroof. Unfortunately, that story only loosely alludes to the work of Mr. Phelps, Edward Land, and William Bird Herapath, and is scant on the details.
Give it a close review to understand the modern science at play, but remember all the while that many modern marvels that we love and enjoy on a daily basis were delivered to us by the hard work and tireless research of our predecessors.