Them NanoRomans and the Lycurgus Cup

A few years ago, we mentioned in these pages a number of reports  which suggested the Romans were exploiting nano-technology (although they didn’t know it, of course … Them Nanoromans) … here’s another case via PhysOrg (tip o’ the pileus to John McMahon) … just the intro, then my eyes sort of glaze over (lack of caffeine + plenty of specialized vocabulary):

Utilizing optical characteristics first demonstrated by the ancient Romans, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have created a novel, ultra-sensitive tool for chemical, DNA, and protein analysis. “With this device, the nanoplasmonic spectroscopy sensing, for the first time, becomes colorimetric sensing, requiring only naked eyes or ordinary visible color photography,” explained Logan Liu, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and of bioengineering at Illinois. “It can be used for chemical imaging, biomolecular imaging, and integration to portable microfluidics devices for lab-on-chip-applications. His research team’s results were featured in the cover article of the inaugural edition of Advanced Optical Materials (optical section of Advanced Materials). The Lycurgus cup was created by the Romans in 400 A.D. Made of a dichroic glass, the famous cup exhibits different colors depending on whether or not light is passing through it; red when lit from behind and green when lit from in front. It is also the origin of inspiration for all contemporary nanoplasmonics research—the study of optical phenomena in the nanoscale vicinity of metal surfaces. “This dichroic effect was achieved by including tiny proportions of minutely ground gold and silver dust in the glass,” Liu added. “In our research, we have created a large-area high density array of a nanoscale Lycurgus cup using a transparent plastic substrate to achieve colorimetric sensing. The sensor consists of about one billion nano cups in an array with sub-wavelength opening and decorated with metal nanoparticles on side walls, having similar shape and properties as the Lycurgus cups displayed in a British museum. Liu and his team were particularly excited by the extraordinary characteristics of the material, yielding 100 times better sensitivity than any other reported nanoplasmonic device. Colorimetric techniques are mainly attractive because of their low cost, use of inexpensive equipment, requirement of fewer signal transduction hardware, and above all, providing simple-to-understand results. Colorimetric sensor can be used for both qualitative analytic identification as well as quantitative analysis. The current design will also enable new technology development in the field of DNA/protein microarray. […]

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