Recent evidence suggests that the Roman craftsmen who created the Lycurgus Cup, a glass drinking goblet, used nanotechnology to cause the goblet to change color under different lighting. The cup’s unique properties were first noted when it was brought to a museum in the 1950s—it wasn’t until 1990, however, that researchers figured out how the color changers were brought about. The goblet was created approximately 1,600 years ago, using a process whereby very tiny gold and silver particles were embedded in the glass. In normal lighting, the glass appears to have a jade background. When lit from behind, however, the green parts suddenly look ruby red. This is all courtesy of the way electrons vibrate when struck by photons—something the Romans could not have known. Yet, because other goblet pieces have been found with the very same mixture, it’s clear they knew they were on to something. They actually used the color changing effects to create stories. The Lycurgus Cup, for example, depicts the story of King Lycurgus as he is caught up in a tangle of grapevines—penance for treachery committed against Dionysus, the god of wine in Greek mythology. Researchers speculate that the Romans simply ground the metal particles until it would take a
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