Those Harvard researchers sure don't mess around.
Evidently unsatisfied with the status quo, a team from the university's Laboratory for Integrated Science and Engineering have come up with an alternative for one of mankind's oldest endeavors - painting stuff.
Well, kind of. A recent report from the university details a new process for ultra-lightweight coloring technology. Designed for use in manufacturing, the system would replace latex and gloss with electron beams and vaporized metals.
Nanotech Monet Is World's Smallest Masterpiece
It works like this: Rather than applying a coat of paint to a manufactured item, which adds to weight and production costs, the new technique colors the surface of the item with vaporized metals. Because the metals adhere at the nano scale, they weigh essentially nothing yet can alter the color of an object in the same fashion as traditional paints.
An electron beam is used to vaporize the metals - different metals produce different colors - which then collect on the surface of the item when placed in a vacuum chamber. It's a fundamentally different kind of application process that could change the way companies go about large-scale manufacturing.
Paint Job Powers Concept Car
The technique - developed by Ph.D. student Mikhail Kats and his adviser, physicist Federico Capasso - initially only worked with smooth and rigid metal surfaces. With further development, however, the researchers say they have been able to apply the process to virtually any material, from fabrics to electronics.
"This can be viewed as a way of coloring almost any object while using just a tiny amount of material," Capasso says on the Harvard project page. "If it's a metal to begin with, you can just use 10 nanometers to color it, and if it's not, you can deposit a metal that's 30 nanometers thick and then another 10 nanometers. That's a lot thinner than a conventional paint coating that might be between a micron and 10 microns thick."
If the technique does indeed replace traditional painting, it will be the end of a long run. Archaeologists estimate humans have been painting things for at least 40,000 years.
Credit: Eliza Grinnell / Harvard