04 March 2016

Nanotechnology in ancient Rome

This jade green goblet looks red when lit from behind.
The glass chalice, known as the Lycurgus Cup because it bears a scene involving King Lycurgus of Thrace, appears jade green when lit from the front but blood-red when lit from behind—a property that puzzled scientists for decades after the museum acquired the cup in the 1950s. The mystery wasn’t solved until 1990, when researchers in England scrutinized broken fragments under a microscope and discovered that the Roman artisans were nanotechnology pioneers: They’d impregnated the glass with particles of silver and gold, ground down until they were as small as 50 nanometers in diameter, less than one-thousandth the size of a grain of table salt. The exact mixture of the precious metals suggests the Romans knew what they were doing—“an amazing feat,” says one of the researchers, archaeologist Ian Freestone of University College London.
Further explanation at Smithsonian.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. That is a very clever way to color glass. Certainly lots of things we wouldn't call nanotechnology can be though of as nano-tech. Paint relies on optical interaction of light with nano-particles to absorb & reflect light as do the impurities added to all colored glass. Creating alloyed metals with new and interesting properties is a nano/quantum scale technology. Polishing with jewelers rouge uses nano-scale particles as an abrasive.


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