Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Renewed blue

The tomb of Nakht, a priest, astronomer, and scribe in Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt (c. 1550 - c. 1292 B.C.E.), located near Abd El-Qurna Necropolis in Luxor.

 

The oldest known synthetic pigment in the world was made by the ancient Egyptians some 5,000 years ago by grinding sand, lime, and copper (or copper ore) and heating the mixture in a furnace. The strikingly bright color (image here) was used on statues and tomb paintings, and the technology was shared with other Mediterranean cultures. The Greeks used it on the Parthenon in the Romans used it in Pompeii. Chemists led by Tina Salguero of the University of Georgia in Athens have rediscovered the beauty of the pigment - not aesthetically, but scientifically. When irradiated with visible light, so-called Egyptian blue emits near-infrared rays with exceptional strength, with even single particles of the pigment detectable from a distance of a few yards. It could therefore have a variety of modern applications, including telecommunications and biomedical imaging. Because it is composed of abundant and inexpensive elements, in contrast to other near-infrared-emitting materials that contain rare earth elements, it could provide economic and environmental benefits to future uses. It can also be peeled into exceptionally thin slices. Explains Salguero, "This aspect of Egyptian blue's chemistry was under our noses for millennia. The discovery wasn't made earlier for two main reasons — nobody was looking, and now we actually have the tools to image things with nanometer dimensions."

 

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