Nanotechnology In Ancient Rome? There Is Evidence

Anything related to nanotechnology feels fairly modern, doesn’t it? Although Richard Feynman planted the seeds of the idea in 1959, the word itself didn’t really get formed until the 70s or 80s, depending on who you ask. But there is evidence that nanotechnology could have existed as far back as the 4th century in ancient Rome.

That evidence lies in this, the Lycurgus cup. It’s an example of dichroic glass — that is, glass that takes on a different color depending on the light source. In this case, the opaque green of front lighting gives way to glowing red when light is shining through it. The mythology that explains the scene varies a bit, but the main character is King Lycurgus, king of Edoni in Thrace.

So how does it work? The glass contains extremely small quantities of colloidal gold and silver — nanoparticles of gold to produce the red, and silver particles to make the milky green. The composition of the Lycurgus cup was puzzling until the 1990s, when small pieces of the same type of glass were discovered in ancient Roman ruins and analyzed. The particles in the Lycurgus cup are thought to be the size of one thousandth of a grain of table salt — substantial enough to reflect light without blocking it.

The question is, how much did the Romans know about what they were doing? Did they really have the means to grind these particles into dust and purposely infuse them, or could this dichroic glass have been produced purely by accident? Be sure to check out the videos after the break that discuss this fascinating piece of drinkware.

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Additive Manufacturing Of Nickel Nanopillars Using Two-Photon Lithography

The multistep, two-photon-lithography-based additive manufacturing method forms intermediate products of blank polymer, Ni-infused polymer, and NiO while fabricating Ni
nanopillars. (Credit: Zhang et al., 2023)

Manufacturing nano-sized features is rapidly becoming an essential part of new technologies and process, ranging from catalysts to photonics and nano-scale robotics. Creating these features at scale and in a reproducible manner is a challenge, with previous attempts using methods ranging from dealloying and focused ion beams to templated electrodeposition all coming with their own drawbacks. Here recent research by Whenxin Zhang and colleagues as published in Nano Letters demonstrates a method using additive manufacturing.

Specifically, nanopillars were printed in a hydrogel polymer with a laser-based lithography method called two-photon absorption which allows for a femtosecond laser to very precisely affect a small region within the targeted material with little impact on the surrounding area. This now solid and structured polymer hydrogel was then submerged into a Ni(NO3)2 solution to infuse it with nickel. After drying, the resulting structure had the polymer burned away in a furnace, leaving just the porous Ni nanopillars.

Subsequent testing showed that these nanopillars were more robust than similar structures created using other methods, presumably due to the less ordered internal physical structure of each pillar. Based on these results, it’s likely that the same approach could be used for other types of nano-sized structures.

MIT Engineers Pioneer Cost-Effective Protein Purification For Cheaper Drugs

There are a wide variety of protein-based drugs that are used to treat various serious conditions. Insulin is perhaps the most well-known example, which is used for life-saving treatments for diabetes. New antibody treatments also fall into this category, as do various vaccines.

A significant cost element in the production of these treatments is the purification step, wherein the desired protein is separated from the contents of the bioreactor it was produced in. A new nanotech discovery from MIT could revolutionize this area, making these drugs cheaper and easier to produce.

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Nanoassembly With Water

Water is sometimes known as the universal solvent. But researchers at Harvard want to use water to put things together instead of taking them apart. Really small things. In the video below, you can see a simple 3D-printed machine that braids microscopic fibers.

The key appears to be surface tension and capillary action. A capillary machine uses channels that repel floating objects. By moving the channel, materials move to avoid the channel, and by shaping the channel, various manipulations can occur, including braiding. This is one of those things that is easier to understand when you see it, so if it doesn’t make sense, watch the video below. The example uses tiny Kevlar fibers.

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Batteries Get Tiny

Steve Martin had a comedy routine that focused on the idea of “getting small.” That probably didn’t inspire the researchers at the Institute for Integrative Nanoscience when they set out to create a sub-square-millimeter microbattery. As you might expect, you won’t be starting your car with a battery the size of a grain of sand anytime soon, but these batteries do have a surprising capacity.

The key is creating what they call “micro-swiss rolls” where the electrodes are wrapped in a tiny cylinder. This isn’t a new idea. However, creating workable rolls at the scale where a grain of rice looks huge isn’t trivial.

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3D Printing Gets Tiny

Using a process akin to electroplating, researchers at the University of Oldenburg have 3D printed structures at the 25 nanometer scale. A human hair, of course, is thousands of time thicker than that. The working medium was a copper salt and a very tiny nozzle. How tiny? As small as 1.6 nanometers. That’s big enough for two copper ions at once.

Tiny nozzles are prone to every 3D printer’s bane: clogged nozzles. To mitigate this, the team built a closed-loop control that measured electrical current between the work area and inside the nozzle. You can read the full paper online.

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Nanotube Yarn Makes Strong Bionic Muscles

What’s just a bit thicker than a human hair and has ten times the capability of a human muscle? Polymer-coated carbon nanotube yarn. Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas created this yarn using carbon nanotubes coated with a polymer and coiled with a diameter of about 140 microns.

Passing a voltage through the fiber causes the muscle yarn to expand or contract. Previous similar fibers have to do both actions. That is, they expand and then contract in a bipolar movement. The polymer coating allows for unipolar fibers, critical to using the fibers as artificial muscles.

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