As the three dots on the box of a desktop printer's ink cartridge suggest, the process of creating a printed image involves laying dots of various pigments in certain sizes to get a fleshed-out image. Researchers at the Agency for Science, Technology & Research in Singapore have taken the same methodology and applied it to nano technology, creating a microscopic recreation of Monet's Impression, Sunrise that looks nearly identical to the original—and doesn't include any ink or paint. (It's the image on the left, in case you couldn't tell)
The team, led by materials researcher Joel K. W. Yang, developed nanoscale metal structures that range 80-220 nanometers in length, in place of dye or ink. Each metal nanostructure—made of aluminum and shaped like a pillar—is placed on top of a silicon substrate. These structures oscillate at certain frequencies in relation to its size, resulting in each reflecting light like a resonator and essentially becoming a color or pixel.
The team had experimented in the past with gold and silver nanostructures, but the switch to alluminum allowed them to experiment more at a lower cost. Now they have a spectrum of over 300 colors and images can be created by tuning the diameters and arrangement of the aluminum pillars. While the gold and silver nano pillars offered more vibrant colors, aluminum is cost-efficient enough to make this technical process feasible for mass-production.
We've seen nano technology applied to make other images, such as microscopic images on single grains of sand and the world's darkest color ever, but the researchers believe this process has its own unique pragmatic applications, such as making anti-counterfeit stamps and designing patterned metal. While the thought of creating a normal-sized Impressionist masterpiece is daunting enough, the mind reels at recreating one at a micro level. We don't want to think about how long it would take to make something by a Surrealist.