Ancient Egyptian Pigment Points to New Telecommunications, Other Technologies

By studying a bright blue pigment used in Ancient Egypt about 5,000 years ago, U.S. chemists have uncovered clues toward the development of new nanomaterials with potential uses in remote controls for televisions, modern medical imaging devices, security inks and other technologies.

The blue pigment used in ancient Egyptian artwork may foster development of new materials for TV remote controls (Darrah Johnson-McDaniel et al)

The pigment, Egyptian blue, regarded as humanity’s first artificial pigment, was used in paintings on tombs, statues and other objects throughout the ancient Mediterranean world,” said Dr Tina Salguero and colleagues from the University of Georgia, who report their findings in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Remnants of Egyptian blue have been found, for instance, on the statue of the messenger goddess Iris on the Parthenon and in the famous Pond in a Garden fresco in the tomb of Egyptian ‘scribe and counter of grain’ Nebamun in Thebes.

The scientists have found that the calcium copper silicate (CaCuSi4O10) in the pigment breaks apart into nanosheets so thin that thousands would fit across the width of a human hair.

The sheets produce invisible infrared radiation (IR) similar to the beams that communicate between remote controls and TVs, car door locks and other telecommunications devices.

“Calcium copper silicate provides a route to a new class of nanomaterials that are particularly interesting with respect to state-of-the-art pursuits like near-IR-based biomedical imaging, IR light-emitting devices, especially telecommunication platforms, and security ink formulations,” the scientists said in the report.

“In this way we can reimagine the applications of an ancient material through modern technochemical means.”

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Bibliographic information: Darrah Johnson-McDaniel et al. 2013. Nanoscience of an Ancient Pigment. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 135 (5), pp 1677–1679; doi: 10.1021/ja310587c