Nanotechnology in medieval times
Though Graceling is certainly set in a magical history, the time period seems distinctly medieval, based on the descriptions of clothing, weapons, buildings, and the general atmosphere. A descriptive passage towards the end of Graceling made me wonder about the science and craft of stained-glass-making in medieval times. Wielding the magical powers of The World Wide Web, I was startled to find news of a recent study that suggests that medieval stained glass windows painted with real gold actually purify the air when sunlight shines through them.
Zhu Huai Yong, along with a group of researchers at Queensland University of Technology's School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, found that many church windows across Europe were decorated with paint containing gold nanoparticles (very basically: really tiny particles) of various sizes. A reaction caused by the activity of electrons in the particles energized by the sun increases the nanoparticles' magnetic field strength by up to 100 times, enough to break up pollutant particles in the air.
Zhu remarked that "For centuries people appreciated only the beautiful works of art, and long life of the colours, but little did they realize that these works of art are also, in modern language, photocatalytic air purifiers with nanostructured gold catalysts." The sun acts as the catalyst in this case, creating a solar-powered technology that may now be used to drive drive chemical reactions. Now, how's that for magic?
The University's press release on the topic has been widely reported in mainstream and specialized media including at nanitenews.com; and the same website also reported on other potential medical breakthroughs utilizing gold nanoparticles.
Examples of medieval stained glass windows:
This article was originally published in November 2008, and has been updated for the
September 2009 paperback release.
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