The ancient nanotech works something like this: When hit with light, electrons belonging to the metal flecks vibrate in ways that alter the color depending on the observer’s position. Gang Logan Liu, an engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has long focused on using nanotechnology to diagnose disease, and his colleagues realized that this effect offered untapped potential. “The Romans knew how to make and use nanoparticles for beautiful art,” Liu says. “We wanted to see if this could have scientific applications.”
When various fluids filled the cup, Liu suspected, they would change how the vibrating electrons in the glass interacted, and thus the color. Today’s home pregnancy tests exploit a separate nano-based phenomenon to turn a white line pink.
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