The Sciences

Plain Ol' Paint Goes Hi-Tech

From paintable solar cells to antifreeze paint inspired by fish blood

By Sarah BatesNov 19, 2007 12:00 AM

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Researchers have recently manipulated carbon nanotubes, extracted fish proteins, and mapped light beams—all in the name of making paint with some pretty funky properties:

1 When aerospace companies asked the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Applied Materials Research to help keep the wings of planes from icing up, researchers turned to nature. Coatings of “antifreeze proteins” from Arctic fish can suppress the growth of ice crystals; painted on the wings, the coating could help de-ice and reduce drag.

2 Light, not ice, is the main concern for scientists at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. A combination of carbon nanotubes and buckyballs (spherical carbon molecules) is the basis for paintable solar cells. The paint isn’t as energy efficient as silicon cells, but the application is far simpler.

3 Then there’s the paint that allows light to pass through it. Allard Mosk and Ivo Vellekoop at the University of Twente recently challenged conventional physics when they focused light through an opaque medium. They discovered that the scattering of light could be compensated for before light ever reached an object. “Directional light shining through a layer of paint was previously unheard of,” Vellekoop says. “It could be used to perform efficient spectroscopy of paint or powders, or even to study the process of paint drying.”

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