What if we could reduce environmental problems by eliminating pigments in paint? Creating colorful paint without pigments is possible by copying something found in the natural world. For example, butterflies, birds, fish, and cephalopods use structural color to create their dazzling beauty. Light, rather than pigments, creates structural color.
Debashis Chanda and colleagues at the University of Central Florida have researched eliminating pigments in paint by using structural color. Pigment colors are artificially synthesized molecules, requiring different chemicals for each color. Structural color involves producing a geometrical arrangement of two colorless materials to make any color of the rainbow.
Chandra’s work produces a plasmonic paint using nanoscale structural arrangements of aluminum and aluminum oxide, both of which are colorless. Structural color controls the reflection, scattering, or absorption of light based on the geometrical configuration of the nanostructures. The research has placed these structural color flakes in a commercial binder to produce all the colors visible to the human eye.
Unlike pigment color, structural color never fades. Another advantage is that it reflects infrared radiation, so the material under the paint can stay 25 to 30 degrees F cooler than with chemical paint. Also, plasmonic paint is lighter weight because it can produce saturated colors with a thinner paint layer. In addition, since the colors will not fade, there may not be a need to repaint as often. Finally, eliminating pigments in paint reduces chemical substances that can cause environmental impacts.
With these advantages, structural color plasmonic paint may be the paint of the future. Interestingly, structural color is another thing we learn from studying the natural world. Often the colors we see in living things come from structural color rather than pigments. This is one more example of the intelligence God built into the world. We continue to learn exciting new ways to improve people’s lives by mimicking what God has already done. Like velcro, penicillin, bird wings, and lizard lungs, we are blessed by copying God’s design.
— John N. Clayton © 2023
References: National Science Foundation Reports and the journal Science Advances