This 1,600-Year-Old Goblet Shows that the Romans Were Nanotechnology Pioneers

The colorful secret of a 1,600-year-old Roman chalice at the British Museum is the key to a super­sensitive new technology that might help diagnose human disease or pinpoint biohazards at security checkpoints.

The Romans may have first come across the colorful potential of nanoparticles by accident, but they seem to have perfected it. (The Trustees of the British Museum / Art Resource, NY)

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.

The ancient nanotech works something like this: When hit with light, electrons belonging to the metal flecks vibrate in ways that alter the color depending on the observer’s position. Gang Logan Liu, an engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has long focused on using nanotechnology to diagnose disease, and his colleagues realized that this effect offered untapped potential. “The Romans knew how to make and use nanoparticles for beautiful art,” Liu says. “We wanted to see if this could have scientific applications.”

When various fluids filled the cup, Liu suspected, they would change how the vibrating electrons in the glass interacted, and thus the color. (Today’s home pregnancy tests exploit a separate nano-based phenomenon to turn a white line pink.)

  • Share/Bookmark

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Radio Archives

Fundraising with GoGetFunding
Fundraising with GoGetFunding

Give Your Support

The Global Reality represents a tireless effort to search, gather, and present information that even some alternative media channels refuse to discuss, let alone the mainstream. This effort is provided with no advertisements, no selling of products or services that are irrelevant and useless. There is only one sponsor: YOU!

Support the information that's in your right to know, that "they" dare not want you to know.

Notice: We can now take manual credit card entries for DVD's or donations. Those who do not want to use Paypal can now send your credit card number, expiration date, 3 digit security code and zip code to globalrealityshow@gmail.com along with the amount of purchase and we can process your order into our Paypal account without you having to use Paypal at all.

One-Time Donation

Donation Subscription

Monthly Recurring Donations
Your Own Amount: $

Join Us on FedBook