FREE NEWSLETTER: Econintersect sends a nightly newsletter highlighting news events of the day, and providing a summary of new articles posted on the website. Econintersect will not sell or pass your email address to others per our privacy policy. You can cancel this subscription at any time by selecting the unsubscribing link in the footer of each email.

posted on 05 February 2016

From Chrome Plating To Nanotubes: The 'Modern' Chemistry First Used In Ancient Times

from The Conversation

-- this post authored by Mark Lorch, University of Hull

The ancient Babylonians were the first to use sophisticated geometry - a staggering 1,400 years before it was previously thought to have been developed. Sadly, these mathematical innovations were forgotten as the Babylonian civilisation collapsed and were only rediscovered this year as scientists took a close look at ancient clay tablets.

This surprising finding made me wonder about what other scientific methods that we put down to modern minds were actually discovered by ancient civilisations. So I decided to hunt down some of the most advanced uses of chemistry.

Qin Dynasty chrome plating

The mirrored shine of chrome-plated metal is almost a symbol of the modern era. A thin chrome layer coats metals and plastics in kitchens, bathrooms and cars. Credit for chrome-plating technology goes to George Sargent who published a method in 1920 that lead to the commercial plating that dominated the Art Deco period and beyond. In fact, other famous chemists including Robert Bunsen dabbled with chrome plating in the mid-19th century. But all of these may have been beaten to the shine by the metallurgists of the Qin dynasty in China some 2,000 years before chrome had even been identified in the West.

Qin dynasty sword on display. Mark Lorch/Flickr, CC BY-ND

In the 1970s, razor sharp swords coated in a thin layer of chromium oxide were unearthed along with the the famous Terracotta army. The Chinese suggest that their 1st dynasty weapon smiths coated officers' weapons to protect them from corrosion. And indeed, two millennia later the blades are untarnished. However, whether this is really the case or in fact the chromium layer slowly formed from a peculiarity of the blade's composition and the fires that ravaged the buried terracotta army is a matter of debate.

Roman concrete

Concrete is the mainstay of modern buildings, but ancient civilisations also used it to great effect. Concrete is a composite, meaning that it is made from two or more materials; cement is mixed with sand and gravel, which then sets into whatever structure is required. The most famous ancient concrete buildings are probably the Pantheon and Colosseum in Rome. Both are composed of fine volcanic ash mixed with lime (calcium hydroxide).

Colosseum in Rome. Diliff/wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Together these make the cement, which sets and binds fist sized pieces of limestone together. This particular recipe produces a network of crystals that resist propagation of cracks, the bane of modern concrete. The result is an incredibly enduring material that is, in many ways, superior to today's concrete. A testament to this is the majestic roof of the Pantheon, which, at 43 metres across, is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.

Damascene nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes are the strongest and stiffest materials known. They consist of cylinders with walls that are just one atom thick. When used within composite materials they can massively enhance the strength of an object resulting in super strong and light components, some of which you can find in wind turbines, sports gear and vehicles.

18th-century Persian-forged Damascus steel sword. Rahil Alipour Ata Abadi/wikimedia

In 2006 researchers discovered that the people of Damascus were making use of nanotubes in their steel hundreds of years ago. The result was beautiful blades covered in swirling patterns. And more importantly for the soldiers of the time was the exceptional durability and the razor-sharp edges the steel held. We now know the exact composition of Damascus steel, yet modern metallurgists have failed to reproduce it so far.

Egyptian pigments

William Perkin is credited with producing the first organic dye (using chemists' meaning of the word organic - in other words, carbon-containing chemicals) when he accidentally discovered purple mauveine while trying to make quinine in 1856.

Pyxis made out of Egyptian blue from 750-700 BC. Shown at Altes Museum in Berlin. Bairuilong/wikimedia, CC BY-SA

But the first synthetic pigment of any type was probably made by the Egyptians as early as 3000BC. By heating a mixture of sand, ash, calcium carbonate (possibly from shells), and a copper containing ore to temperatures of over 800°C they manufactured blue calcium copper silicate. This could be then be used in glazes to produce a stunning range of hues.

Greek atomic theory

Democritus had it right all along.

The incredible technologies devised by craftsman and artists of ancient civilisations are astounding. Much of it can't be bettered by modern techniques. But what separates science from skilled craft is an understanding of the underlying mechanisms involved in the making of the material. Underpinning this understanding in modern chemistry is the atomic theory often credited to John Dalton in the early 19th century. But philosophers of old also had a good crack at thinking about the nature of matter. And in fact atomism has sprung up multiple times in antiquity. Most notably from the Greek philosophers Democritus and Leucippus who speculated that everything is composed of physical, indivisible and invisible atoms back in the 5th century BC.

The ConversationMark Lorch, Senior Lecturer in Biological Chemistry, Associate Dean for Engagement , University of Hull

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

>>>>> Scroll down to view and make comments <<<<<<

Click here for Historical News Post Listing

Make a Comment

Econintersect wants your comments, data and opinion on the articles posted.  As the internet is a "war zone" of trolls, hackers and spammers - Econintersect must balance its defences against ease of commenting.  We have joined with Livefyre to manage our comment streams.

To comment, using Livefyre just click the "Sign In" button at the top-left corner of the comment box below. You can create a commenting account using your favorite social network such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn or Open ID - or open a Livefyre account using your email address.

You can also comment using Facebook directly using he comment block below.

Econintersect Contributors


Print this page or create a PDF file of this page
Print Friendly and PDF

The growing use of ad blocking software is creating a shortfall in covering our fixed expenses. Please consider a donation to Econintersect to allow continuing output of quality and balanced financial and economic news and analysis.

Take a look at what is going on inside of
Main Home
Analysis Blog
A Short Note on a Connection Between Marginalist Economics and Folk Medicine
Run A High Pressure Economy? Janet Yellen Does Not Understand the Problem
News Blog
Early Headlines: Asia Stocks Down, Oil Lower, Great Lakes Wind Power, Chinese Moving Mfg To US, Tesla Reports Profit, Dems Forecast To Take Senate, China's Debt And More
How Miller Stacks Up Against His Draft Class
Inside The Machine: How Two Nobel Winners Taught Us How Companies Tick
Healthcare's Dirty Little Secret: Results From Many Clinical Trials Are Unreliable
The Cleveland Indian's Unique Use Of Andrew Miller
What We Read Today 26 October 2016
Why Do So Many Price Tags End In .99
September 2016 New Home Sales Improve.
Higher GDP Growth In The Long Run Requires Higher Productivity Growth
Quantum Encryption Is Secure Because Information Encoded In A Quantum Particle Is Destroyed As Soon As It Is Measured
The Stock Market Is Up, But Mutual Fund Investors Are Fleeing
Infographic Of The Day: Google's Hidden Games
Early Headlines: Asia Srocks Mostly Lower, Energy HY Bonds Surge, Google Fiber Cutback, Shadow Banks Dominate Mortgages, NATO Crowds Russia, Coffee Surges And More
Investing Blog
Thirsty For Income? How To Thrive In This Yield Desert
Apple's First Annual Sales Decline In 15 Years
Opinion Blog
A Hard Brexit And Reduced Migration Won't Benefit UK Workers
What Triggers Collapse?
Precious Metals Blog
Inflation Surging As Platinum Signals Stock Market Decline
Live Markets
26Oct2016 Market Close: US Markets Close Lower, Boeing Shares Up, Texas Tea Stabilizes In Low 49's, Gold Falls To 1266, Friday's Fed Rate Change Promises To Be A Game Changer
Amazon Books & More

.... and keep up with economic news using our dynamic economic newspapers with the largest international coverage on the internet
Asia / Pacific
Middle East / Africa
USA Government

Crowdfunding ....



Analysis Blog
News Blog
Investing Blog
Opinion Blog
Precious Metals Blog
Markets Blog
Video of the Day


Asia / Pacific
Middle East / Africa
USA Government

RSS Feeds / Social Media

Combined Econintersect Feed

Free Newsletter

Marketplace - Books & More

Economic Forecast

Content Contribution



  Top Economics Site Contributor TalkMarkets Contributor Finance Blogs Free PageRank Checker Active Search Results Google+

This Web Page by Steven Hansen ---- Copyright 2010 - 2016 Econintersect LLC - all rights reserved