One of these images is smaller than a period at the end of a sentence; the other is a masterpiece by Claude Monet. You might be hard-pressed to spot the difference, because researchers at Singapore’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering have developed a new technique to produce microscopic art that looks just like the real thing.
The team of researchers created the microscopic replication (the image pictured on the right), using an ink-free printing technique that involves a nanostructure of aluminum pillars.
So where do the colors come from?
The researchers focused beams of electrons on top of the metal pillars, causing the aluminum to resonate at different frequencies and give out varying colors depending on the size of the pillar. The researchers were able to build a palette of 300 colors, broadening their options for artistic expression, by differing the distances between each pillar and then transferring the color pixels onto a silicon substrate, according to NanoWerk, a nanotechnology news site.
“Each color pixel on this image was mapped to the closest color from a palette that we created using arrays of metal nanodisks, and the code spits out a series of geometries corresponding to this color,” Joel K.W. Yang, an assistant professor at Singapore’s University of Technology and Design told Wired. "A single drop of dye from a typical printer would already be about the size of the entire print made with our technology.”
Art is just the first step. Eventually, Yang and his team -- who published their paper on aluminum nanostructure printing in the June 13 online edition of Nano Letters -- hope to apply the technology to security and counterfeiting applications and potentially even holography one day, according to NanoWerk.
To see more examples of nanotech art, check out "The Art of Nanotech" interactive slideshow on PBS.