During ancient Rome, glass vessels would often break and be covered by dust and soil. These fragments, discovered today, display beautiful iridescent colors and are used in jewelry or displayed in museums.

For Fiorenzo Omenetto and Giulia Guidetti, professors at Tufts University, what’s fascinating is how the molecules in the glass rearranged and combined with minerals over thousands of years to form photonic crystals. These crystals have various applications in modern technology, such as creating optical switches and filters.

In a recent study, Omenetto, Guidetti, and their team explored the atomic and mineral structures that formed in these ancient glass fragments. The project began when a fragment of Roman glass caught their attention at the Italian Institute of Technology. They used a scanning electron microscope to analyze the glass and discovered a hierarchical structure composed of silica layers, which resembled reflectors that reflect specific wavelengths of light.

The researchers believe that this structure formed through a process of corrosion and reconstruction. Over time, minerals diffused into the glass and cyclically corroded the silica, while layers of silica and minerals assembled. This resulted in an ordered arrangement of crystalline layers.

The researchers suggest that if they can accelerate this process in the laboratory, it could lead to the growth of optic materials instead of manufacturing them.

The growth of crystals on the glass reflects the changes in the ground as ancient Rome evolved, providing a record of its environmental history. This parallel can be seen in how the city itself has developed over time, with new structures being built on top of ancient foundations.

Overall, studying these ancient glass fragments provides insights into the molecular process of decay and reconstruction and offers potential applications in technology and understanding the environmental history of ancient civilizations.

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By hassani

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