Goblet tricks suggests ancient Romans were first to use nanotechnology

August 27, 2013 by Bob Yirka weblog
Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum

(Phys.org) —Recent evidence suggests that the Roman craftsmen who created the Lycurgus Cup, a glass drinking goblet, used nanotechnology to cause the goblet to change color under different lighting. The cup's unique properties were first noted when it was brought to a museum in the 1950s—it wasn't until 1990, however, that researchers figured out how the color changers were brought about.

The goblet was created approximately 1,600 years ago, using a process whereby very tiny gold and silver particles were embedded in the glass. In normal lighting, the glass appears to have a jade background. When lit from behind, however, the green parts suddenly look ruby red. This is all courtesy of the way vibrate when struck by photons—something the Romans could not have known. Yet, because other goblet pieces have been found with the very same mixture, it's clear they knew they were on to something. They actually used the color changing effects to create stories. The Lycurgus Cup, for example, depicts the story of King Lycurgus as he is caught up in a tangle of —penance for treachery committed against Dionysus, the god of wine in Greek mythology.

Researchers speculate that the Romans simply ground the until it would take a thousand of them to match the size of single sand grain, then mixed them in with the hot . But that wasn't the end of the story: the Romans created a goblet such as the Lycurgus Cup, by carving it from a single block. That means they also understood that different thicknesses of the glass would exhibit different coloring as well.

New research has suggested that the cup also changes colors when liquid is poured into it (although the researchers did not do so as it might have caused damage). Instead, they undertook lab experiments to replicate the makeup of the cup then applied various liquids. Their results suggest the cup might have displayed a variety of colors depending on which sort of beverage was poured into to it.

Researchers are just now, all these years later, learning about such color changing properties of materials with embedded nanoparticles. The hope is that these properties can be exploited to perform chemistry or medical tests cheaply and quickly by displaying different colors under different conditions.

Explore further: The world's most sensitive plasmon resonance sensor inspired by ancient Roman cup

More information: via Smithsonianmag

Related Stories

FIFA pick GoalControl for Confederations Cup

April 2, 2013

Football's world governing body on Tuesday said that German company GoalControl will provide the goal-line technology at this year's Confederations Cup in Brazil.

Recommended for you

The microscopic origin of efficiency droop in LEDs

November 21, 2017

Light-emitting diodes—or LEDs, as they are commonly known—have been slowly replacing incandescent light bulbs in applications ranging from car taillights to indicators on electronics since their invention in the 1960s.

Borophene shines alone as 2-D plasmonic material

November 20, 2017

An atom-thick film of boron could be the first pure two-dimensional material able to emit visible and near-infrared light by activating its plasmons, according to Rice University scientists.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.1 / 5 (10) Aug 27, 2013
Have we gained knowledge at a cost of ingenuity? Billions more people with terabytes of data at their fingertips, yet the truly creative are still lightning bolt rare. Often times good old trial and error trumps the intellectual.
2.8 / 5 (4) Aug 27, 2013
Often times good old trial and error trumps the intellectual.

And often times it doesn't. If you want to invent the next medical technology by banging on random parts in your garage, no one's stopping you. But to make something truly great and useful, and cutting-edge, in a human lifetime it helps to have some theory to guide experiment. Think about it. Given people's profit motive, if it was cheaper to eschew "the intellectual" and just start trying stuff, then that's how it would be done. The fact that it isn't done that way is strong evidence that theory is important.
2.2 / 5 (11) Aug 27, 2013
So pjp your comment basically has zero to do with the article and is wrote specifically to flame what I posted about the article, and totally missed the point at the same time? Uhh Grats on being someone who will never pass reading and studying theory.
not rated yet Sep 06, 2013
The Ancient Art Podcast recently featured the Lycurgus Cup in a beautiful video podcast at ancientartpodcast.org
"Raise your glass to the most incredible chalice from antiquity. The Lycurgus Cup in the British Museum is truly exceptional for its exquisite beauty, delicate craftsmanship, magnificent detail, and a seemingly magical ability to transform colors before your very eyes. Discover the myth of the doomed Thracian king, Lycurgus, driven mad by Dionysus and ensnared by the wine god's creeping vines. Explore the wondrous curiosity of Roman cage cups found in collections across the world."

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.