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Nature leads the way for the next generation of paints, cosmetics and holograms
Date:10/3/2007

its economic and environmental benefits could in future encourage industry to develop a much wider range of exciting products that change colour as they or the observer move position. Whats more, the shells themselves are completely biodegradable, aiding eventual disposal and further reducing the environmental impact of the process life cycle.

The new technique basically lets nature do the hard work. It involves taking a diatom or other living cells such as those that make iridescent butterfly scales, and immersing them in a culture medium a solution containing nutrients, hormones, minerals etc that encourage cell subdivision and growth. By changing the precise make-up of the culture medium, the exact iridescent properties of the diatoms or butterfly scales (and therefore the final optical effects that they create) can be adjusted. The researchers estimate that up to 1 tonne/day of diatoms could be produced in the laboratory in this way, starting from just a few cells. Within as little as two years, an industrial-scale process could be operational.

Its a mystery why diatoms have iridescent qualities, says Professor Parker. It may have something to do with maximising sunlight capture to aid photosynthesis in some species; on the other hand, it could be linked with the need to ensure that sunlight capture is not excessive in others. Whatever the case, exploiting their tiny shells remarkable properties could make a big impact across industry. They could even have the potential to be incorporated into paint to provide a water-repellent surface, making it self-cleaning.


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Contact: Natasha Richardson
natasha.richardson@epsrc.ac.uk
44-017-934-44404
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Source:Eurekalert

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