Saturday, August 24, 2013


Imagine being at a special event in 4th c. Rome when they break out a magical chalice to serve your drink (IMAGE ABOVE): a cage-cup, or diatretum, so-called because the bas-relief scene – in this case, King Lycurgus of Thrace – was created by cutting and grinding the glass to leave only a decorative "cage" at the original surface-level. But that was just some of the workmanship that went into it, since the jade green cup would turn red when it was lit from behind (PHOTO HERE). It was only in 1990 that researchers figured out how the Roman artisans had achieved such a feat, and were surprised to find that they were pioneers of nanotechnology! They had impregnated the glass with silver and gold particles which they ground down to less than 1/1,000th the size of a grain of table salt. Their exact mixture was intended to alter the cup's color depending on the observer’s position. The Roman method was more sensitive than some contemporary tests to detect disease pathogens and dangerous liquids. Engineer Gang Logan Liu of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wants to put the 1,600-year-old handiwork to use. “The Romans knew how to make and use nanoparticles for beautiful art. We wanted to see if this could have scientific applications.”

Thanks again, Wendy!

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