Scientists change colour ofgold

Scientists change colour of the gold

10:43 AM, 30th October 2012
Scientists change colour of the gold
Scientists have developed a new process for changing the surface colour of gold and other metals. © Shutterstock

SOUTHAMPTON, UK: University of Southampton team has discovered a ground-breaking initiative of changing the colour of the world’s most iconic precious metal - gold. The team has embossed tiny raised or indented patterns onto the metal’s surface, they can change the way it absorbs and reflects light – ensuring our eyes don’t see it as ‘golden’ in colour at all. Equally applicable to other metals such as silver and aluminium, this breakthrough opens up the prospect of colouring metals without having to coat or chemically treat them. This could deliver valuable economic, environmental and other benefits.

The technique could be harnessed in a wide range of industries for anything from manufacturing jewellery to making banknotes and documents harder to forge. “This is the first time the visible colour of metal has been changed in this way. The colours of the objects we see all around us are determined by the way light interacts with those objects. For instance, an object that reflects red light absorbs other wavelengths will appear red to the human eye,” said Nikolay Zheludev, Professor, University of Southampton.

“This is the fundamental principle we have exploited in this project. By embossing metals with patterns only around 100 nanometre across, we’ve found that we can control which wavelengths of light the metal absorbs and which it reflects,” said Zheludev.

The precise shape and height or depth of the patterns determine exactly how light behaves when it strikes the metal and therefore what colour is created. The technique can be used to produce a wide range of colour on a given metal. A silver ring, for example, could be decorated with a number of different patterns, making one part of it appear red, another part green and so on; metal features with sophisticated optical properties that would be almost impossible to imitate could be incorporated into documents as security features.

The nano-patterning is carried out at the research level using well-established techniques such as ion beam milling, which may be envisaged as sand-blasting on the atomic scale. However, the concept may be scaled for industrial production using such processes as nano-imprint, whereby large areas are stamped out from a master template in a manner comparable to CD/DVD production.

“We’ve filed a patent application to cover our work and we’re currently talking to a number of organisations about taking our breakthrough towards commercialisation,” added Professor Zheludev.

© University of Southampton

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