Sunday, August 24, 2008

How nanotechnology started really in 17th century, if not earlier

The Corning Museum of Glass is having an exhibit through 4 January 2008 on the legitimate work of alchemists from 1650 to 1750 with regards to glass, a period in which some alchemists transformed themselves and their field into the science of chemistry. The 20 August 2008 issue of the Wall Street Journal, page D9, has a nice review of the art show. A few of the review's paragraphs briefly recount one early success in what is now the field of nanotechnology similar to that of the even earlier success of ancient Mayans making the nano-sized Mayan Blue pigment:
The other contribution from alchemists during this period was ruby-gold glass, which has a distinctive red hue. The problem had long been dissolving the gold down to precise nanoparticles. If the particles were too small, they wouldn't scatter the light among the proper spectrum and the glass would appear clear. Too big, and the glass had a turbid, brownish color. The key breakthrough came in 1659, when alchemist Johann Rudolf Glauber published a paper describing how to make purple of Cassius. Using an ancient formula called aqua regia, a mix of nitric and hydrochloric acid used to dissolve gold, Glauber added a small amount of tin, which reacted with the gold to produce perfectly sized particles. Glassmaker Johann Kunckel used the purple of Cassius formula to make the first ruby-gold vessels in the 1680s. Some glass pieces using this technology are on display in the exhibit. Very valid prior art.