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Middle Ages

Page history last edited by frogheart@... 11 years, 8 months ago

There was no talk of atoms or nanotechnology in the Middle Ages (aka Medieval Period), usually viewed as extending from 500 CE (common era) to 1500 CE (give or take 100 years either end). Still, there were two important nanotechnology applications, stained glass windows and Damascus steel blades.


Medieval craftsmen used quantum dots (a kind of nanoparticle) to give rich colours to the stained glass windows adorning the cathedrals in Europe. They were using naturally occurring quantum dots (not as small as an atom, e.g. the smallest dot created in a lab contain three atoms [pp. 83-4][1]) known as colloidal quantum dots. Unknowingly, medieval craftsman were confining very small bits (colloidal quantum dots) in glass such that their optical properties were affected and unusual wavelengths of light were reflected.[2]


Damascus steel blades were first made in the 8th century CE when they acquired a legendary status as unlike other blades they were able to cut through bone and stone while remaining sharp enough to cut a piece of silk. They were also flexible which meant they didn't break off easily in a sword fight. The secret for making the blades died (history does not record how) about 1700 CE and there hasn't been a new blade since.


The blades were generally made from metal ingots prepared in India using special recipes which probably put just the right amount of carbon and other impurities into the iron. By following these recipes and following specific forging techniques craftsmen ended up making nanotubes ... When these blades were nearly finished, blacksmiths would etch them with acid. This brought out the wavy light and dark lines that make Damascus swords easy to recognize. [3]


It turns out part of the secret to the blade is nanotechnology. Scientists discovered this by looking at a Damascus steel blade from 1700 under an electron microscope. It seems those unknown smiths were somehow encasing cementite nanowires in carbon nanotubes then forging them into the steel blades giving them their legendary strength and flexibility. 

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  1. Edwards, S. A. (2006) The Nanotech Pioneers; Where Are They Taking Us? Weinheim, Federal Republic of Germany, WILEY-VCH.
  2. Jones, R. A. L. (2007) Soft Machines; Nanotechnology and Life. (originally published 2004, paperback edition 2007) Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press.
  3. Inman, M. (November 16, 2006) Legendary Swords' Sharpness, Strength from Nanotubes Study Says. National Geographic News, Daily News. [Online article] (Accessed June 10, 2008 from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/11/061116-nanotech-swords.html)

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