Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Promoting Personal Safety & National Security: Ancient “Egyptian blue” pigment points to new telecommunications, security ink technology

April 22, 2013

Ancient Egyptian painting
The blue pigment used in ancient Egyptian
artwork may foster development of new
materials for TV remote controls, security
inks and other modern technology.

Credit: Hemera/Thinkstock


A bright blue pigment used 5,000 years ago is giving
modern scientists clues toward the development of new
nanomaterials with potential uses in state-of-the-art
medical imaging devices, remote controls for televisions,
security inks and other technology. That’s the conclusion
of an article on the pigment, Egyptian blue, in the
Journal of the American Chemical Society

Today’s solution is an ancient Egyptian blue pigment used 5,000 years ago. The pigment is giving modern scientists clues toward the development of new nanomaterials that could have uses in medical imaging devices, remote controls, security ink and other technologies. The report on the pigment appears in ACS' Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Tina Salguero, Ph.D., is at the University of Georgia and is the lead author of the paper. She points out that Egyptian blue, regarded as humanity’s first artificial pigment, was used in paintings on tombs, statues and other objects throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. Here’s Dr. Salguero:

“Remnants of this pigment have been found, for instance, on the statue of the messenger goddess Iris on the Parthenon and in the famous “Pond in a Garden” fresco in the tomb of an Egyptian scribe in Thebes.”

In the report, the scientists describe their surprise in discovering that the calcium copper silicate in Egyptian blue breaks apart into nanosheets so thin that thousands would fit across the width of a human hair.

“The nanosheets of calcium copper tetrasilicate produce invisible infrared radiation similar to the beams that communicate between remote controls and TVs, car door locks and other telecommunications devices. Because of this property, these nanosheets could be used in future near-infrared-based medical imaging techniques and security ink formulations. The most interesting and rewarding part of this work has been re-imagining applications of such an ancient material through modern technochemical means.”

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at Today’s podcast was written by Katie Cottingham—that’s me—and I’m at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

Tina Salguero, Ph.D.
Tina Salguero, Ph.D.,
University of Georgia