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Chemistry In Pictures

Chemistry in Pictures: Rainbow in the rock

by Manny Morone
April 4, 2019

A GIF of a synthetic opal with a light source rotating around it causing flecks of color to appear and disappear in the stone.
Credit: Tyler Thrasher
An opal that has been deposited onto the body of a cicada with wings outstretched.
Credit: Tyler Thrasher

A few months ago, artist Tyler Thrasher completed his years-long quest to make synthetic opal from solution. In this video, Thrasher rotates a flashlight around an opal he made and reveals the opal’s varied structural color. Opal is made of series of sheets of silica balls about 100–300 nm wide that pack together in a highly ordered way. Visible light’s wavelengths are on a similar length scale, which means that the spheres can interact with certain wavelengths of light and separate them, sending out specifically colored rays in certain directions. The viewer (or camera) sees different colors based on the angle of the flashlight and where they’re standing.

Thrasher perfected his synthetic opal partly so that he could deposit it onto objects like cicada skins (bottom) which he sells as artwork. The cicada opal shown took him six months of seeded silica growth in solution.

Submitted by Tyler Thrasher

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Related C&EN Content:

Meet Artist Tyler Thrasher, Who Makes Dead Things Sparkle

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