Nanoscale Features Used to Color Plastics

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Nanoscale structures could one day take the place of dyes in the production of colored plastics.

A team from the Technical University of Denmark has found a more environmentally friendly way to produce such plastics, using the shapes of materials rather than conventional dyes and pigments. Use of these unnatural materials makes it difficult for that type of plastic to be recycled.

The researchers found that aluminum can be made to appear in different colors “purely by designing their surface structures at the nanoscopic level.” The researchers chose aluminum because of its interband absorption properties.

Macroscopic color logo was made with the new nanostructured surface
This macroscopic colored logo was made with the new nanostructured surface; the different colors originate from the different-size nanodisks. The two close-up images were captured using electron microscopes. PMMA = poly(methyl methacrylate), a plastic material (Plexiglas).

In the study, the team controlled the colors of plastic consumer products based on localized surface plasmon resonances. This bridged the gap between fabricated plasmonic metasurfaces and large-area, structurally colored plastic surfaces, according to the study.

Colors produced were based on aluminum metal disks layered “on top of dielectric pillars and hovering above a holey metal film.” The use of ultrathin, high-loss dielectrics on top of metal led to bright colors, the researchers said.

The researchers fabricated “bright angle-insensitive colors that may be tuned across the entire visible spectrum,” allowing control of the optical response of aluminum nanodisks and nanoholes in the visible and near-infrared spectral range.

The work was funded by the Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation, the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation and the European Commission. The research was published in Nano Letters (doi: 10.1021/nl5014986).

Published: July 2014
An SI prefix meaning one billionth (10-9). Nano can also be used to indicate the study of atoms, molecules and other structures and particles on the nanometer scale. Nano-optics (also referred to as nanophotonics), for example, is the study of how light and light-matter interactions behave on the nanometer scale. See nanophotonics.
The shortest wavelengths of the infrared region, nominally 0.75 to 3 µm.
aluminumLEDsDanish National Advanced Technology FoundationDenmarkEuropeEuropean CommissiongoldLight SourcesMaterialsnanonanoholesnear-infraredOpticsplasticsResearch & TechnologysilverTechnical University of Denmarklocalized surface plasmon resonancesplasmonic metasurfacesnanodisksinterband absorptionDanish Agency for Science Technology and InnovationTech Pulse

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