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Ancient Roman goblet used to boost optical storage

Ancient Roman glassware housed in the British Museum is at the heart of new research into expanding the storage capabilities of optical storage devices.

The Lycurgus cup, a goblet made in the 4th century during the Roman Empire, incorporates gold-silver alloyed nanoparticles into glass and changes colour from green to red when light passes through it.

Ever since researchers discovered its properties in the 1990s, the cup has been the inspiration for innovative applications of nanotechnology. The latest research from a team at Cambridge University mimics its colour effects to form multi-colour holograms containing 16 million nanoparticles per square millimeter, which they say could pave the way for smaller optical devices.

According to the researchers, holograms made of tiny particles of silver could double the amount of information that can be stored in digital optical devices, such as sensors, displays and medical imaging devices. Interference caused be the light interacting with the nanoparticles lets the holograms go beyond the normal limits of diffraction, or the way in which waves spread or bend when they encounter an opening or obstacle.

"This technology will lead to a new range of applications in the area of photonics, as conventional optical components simply cannot achieve this kind of functionality," said Yunuen Montelongo, a PhD student from the Department of Engineering at Cambridge.

"The potential of this technology will be realised when they are mass produced and integrated into the next generation of ultra-thin consumer electronics".

The Cambridge researchers say they are also exploring various optical mechanisms involved in the light-matter interaction at nanoscale and that future research will involve the construction of 3D dynamic displays for consumer electronics.

Image Credit: Yunuen Montelongo