Gold no longer has to be golden: British team finds way to change the precious metal’s hue

  • Process could be used to make banknotes more difficult to forge
  • It can be applied to any metal and change it to any colour


PUBLISHED: 15:01 GMT, 25 October 2012 |

British scientists have managed to upstage King Midas by changing the colour of gold.

While the mythical king turned everything he touched to gold, the researchers transformed the precious metal by altering the way it absorbs or reflects light.

So gold no longer has to be golden – it can be red or green, or a multitude of other hues.

All that glisters: Gold has here been treated to spell out the words 'nano meta' - pictured here through an optical microscopeAll that glisters: Gold has here been treated to spell out the words ‘nano meta’ – pictured here through an optical microscope

The technique involves embossing tiny raised or indented patterns onto the metal’s surface.

It can also be applied to other metals, such as silver and aluminium, and opens the way to colouring metal without coatings or chemically treatments.

Applications may include anything from manufacturing jewellery to making banknotes and documents harder to forge, say the scientists.


Professor Nikolay Zheludev, who leads the University of Southampton team, said: ‘This is the first time the visible colour of metal has been changed in this way.

‘The colours of the objects we see all around us are determined by the way light interacts with those objects. For instance, an object that reflects red light but absorbs other wavelengths will appear red to the human eye.

‘This is the fundamental principle we have exploited in this project. By embossing metals with patterns only around 100 nanometres across, we’ve found that we can control which wavelengths of light the metal absorbs and which it reflects.’

Hi-tech: A researcher uses one of the nano-fabrication machines used in the processHi-tech: A researcher uses one of the nano-fabrication machines used in the process

The shape and height, or depth, of the patterns determines exactly how light behaves when it strikes the metal and what colour is created.

Different parts of the same surface can be made to reflect light differently. A silver ring, for example, could be decorated with a rainbow of multiple colours.

Metal elements with optical properties that would be almost impossible to forge can also be incorporated into documents as security features.

Prof Zheludev added: ‘We’ve filed a patent application to cover our work, and we’re currently talking to a number of organisations about taking our breakthrough towards commercialisation.’

Details of the research have been published in the journals Optics Express and the Journal of Optics.

The scientists received funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council as part of a £5million project looking at photonic nanostructures.

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