Tag Archives: octopus

Colo(u)r-changing building surfaces thanks to gold nanoparticles

Gold, at the nanoscale, has different properties than it has at the macroscale and research at the University of Cambridge has found a new way to exploit gold’s unique properties at the nanoscale according to a May 13, 2019 news item item on ScienceDaily,

The smallest pixels yet created — a million times smaller than those in smartphones, made by trapping particles of light under tiny rocks of gold — could be used for new types of large-scale flexible displays, big enough to cover entire buildings.

The colour pixels, developed by a team of scientists led by the University of Cambridge, are compatible with roll-to-roll fabrication on flexible plastic films, dramatically reducing their production cost. The results are reported in the journal Science Advances [May 10, 2019].

A May 10,2019 University of Cambridge press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves further into the research,

It has been a long-held dream to mimic the colour-changing skin of octopus or squid, allowing people or objects to disappear into the natural background, but making large-area flexible display screens is still prohibitively expensive because they are constructed from highly precise multiple layers.

At the centre of the pixels developed by the Cambridge scientists is a tiny particle of gold a few billionths of a metre across. The grain sits on top of a reflective surface, trapping light in the gap in between. Surrounding each grain is a thin sticky coating which changes chemically when electrically switched, causing the pixel to change colour across the spectrum.

The team of scientists, from different disciplines including physics, chemistry and manufacturing, made the pixels by coating vats of golden grains with an active polymer called polyaniline and then spraying them onto flexible mirror-coated plastic, to dramatically drive down production cost.

The pixels are the smallest yet created, a million times smaller than typical smartphone pixels. They can be seen in bright sunlight and because they do not need constant power to keep their set colour, have an energy performance that makes large areas feasible and sustainable. “We started by washing them over aluminized food packets, but then found aerosol spraying is faster,” said co-lead author Hyeon-Ho Jeong from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory.

“These are not the normal tools of nanotechnology, but this sort of radical approach is needed to make sustainable technologies feasible,” said Professor Jeremy J Baumberg of the NanoPhotonics Centre at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research. “The strange physics of light on the nanoscale allows it to be switched, even if less than a tenth of the film is coated with our active pixels. That’s because the apparent size of each pixel for light is many times larger than their physical area when using these resonant gold architectures.”

The pixels could enable a host of new application possibilities such as building-sized display screens, architecture which can switch off solar heat load, active camouflage clothing and coatings, as well as tiny indicators for coming internet-of-things devices.
The team are currently working at improving the colour range and are looking for partners to develop the technology further.

The research is funded as part of a UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) investment in the Cambridge NanoPhotonics Centre, as well as the European Research Council (ERC) and the China Scholarship Council.

This image accompanies the press release,

Caption: eNPoMs formed from gold nanoparticles (Au NPs) encapsulated in a conductive polymer shell. Credit: NanoPhotonics Cambridge/Hyeon-Ho Jeong, Jialong Peng Credit: NanoPhotonics Cambridge/Hyeon-Ho Jeong, Jialong Peng

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Scalable electrochromic nanopixels using plasmonics by Jialong Peng, Hyeon-Ho Jeong, Qianqi Lin, Sean Cormier, Hsin-Ling Liang, Michael F. L. De Volder, Silvia Vignolini, and Jeremy J. Baumberg. Science Advances Vol. 5, no. 5, eaaw2205 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw2205 Published: 01 May 2019

This paper appears to be open access.

Cell biology journal conceptualizes science papers’ content with multimedia for a combined print and online experience

Strictly speaking this isn’t visualizing data and scientific information (which I’ve mentioned before)  so much as it is augmenting it. The biology journal Cell  is now including online multimedia components that can be accessed only by a QR code in the journal’s  hardcopy version. From the May 26, 2011 news item on physorg.com,

On May 27th the top cell biology journal, Cell, will publish its latest issue with multimedia components directly attached to the print version. The issue uses QR code technology to connect readers to the journal’s multimedia formats online thereby improving the conceptualization of a paper’s scientific content and enhancing the reader’s overall experience.

Readers of the hardcopy issue who take advantage of the code will experience an author-narrated walk through a paper’s figures. In all, the issue will use QR codes to include seventeen “hidden treasures” for readers to discover. Readers can simply scan the QR codes with a smart phone or tablet to uncover animated figures, interviews, videos, and more. The multimedia formats offered by Cell include: Podcasts, Paperclips, PaperFlicks, and Enhanced Snapshots. Even the journal’s cover shows a simple QR code which allows readers of the hardcopy issue to see an animated cover.

Here’s the animated cover, which is titled, Malaria Channels Host Nutrients,

I find this development interesting in light of moves to provide information via graphical abstracts and/or video abstracts. For example, the publisher Elsevier offers authors of papers for their various science journals instructions on preparing graphical abstracts (from Elsevier’s authors’ graphical abstracts webpage),

A Graphical Abstract should allow readers to quickly gain an understanding of the main take-home message of the paper and is intended to encourage browsing, promote interdisciplinary scholarship, and help readers identify more quickly which papers are most relevant to their research interests.

Authors must provide an image that clearly represents the work described in the paper. A key figure from the original paper, summarising the content can also be submitted as a graphical abstract.

Elsevier provides examples of good graphical abstracts such as this one,

Journal of Controlled Release, Volume 140, Issue 3, 16 December 2009, Pages 210-217. Hydrotropic oligomer-conjugated glycol chitosan as a carrier of paclitaxel: Synthesis, characterization, and in vivo biodistribution. G. Saravanakumar, Kyung Hyun Min, et.al., doi:10.1016/j.jconrel.2009.06.015

For an example of a video abstract, I’m going back to Cell which offers this one from Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers discussing their work on octopus arm movements and visual control,


I have a suspicion that the trend to presenting science to the general public and other experts using graphical and video abstracts and other primarily ‘visual’ media could  have quite an impact on the sciences and how they are practiced. I haven’t quite figured out what any of those impacts might be but if someone would like to  comment on that, I’d be more than happy to hear from you.

Meanwhile, it seems to be a Cell kind of day so I’ve decided to embed the Lady Gaga Bad Project parody by the Hui Zheng Laboratory at Baylor Medical College in Texas for a second time,

Happy Weekend!