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Ancient Egyptian Pigment Now Used in Molecular Biology

The bright and striking pigment known as Egyptian Blue (or calcium copper silicate) was invented 5,000 years ago but continues to fascinate, now through the scientific insight it provides. The pigment (most famously featured on the Bust of Nefertiti, 1345 BC) has proven itself useful in biology research, as nanoscale mineral sheets of it essentially light up molecular imaging. A description of an imaging experiment explains it best: scientists “put the particles into a plant’s leaves, and compared it with another molecule commonly used to study in near-infrared imaging. Leaves are tricky because they fluoresce slightly on their own. But the researchers showed that the Egyptian Blue-containing leaf lit up bright, visible without a microscope, while the other molecule’s light was hidden in the leaf’s own fluorescence.” These near-infared imaging capabilities mean that the ancient pigment could be life-changing, some 5,000 years later, whether in further research, biomedical imaging or even image-guided surgery. Read more at Smithsonian Magazine.

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