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Nanotechnology is a very big word that, ironically, is used to describe the study of very small things. How small is nano exactly? Well, the nanoscale covers anything larger than an individual atom, but smaller than a red blood cell. Just because an electron microscope is needed to “see” the nanoscale doesn’t mean nanotechnology isn’t important to inventors. The way a material behaves at the macroscale is affected by its structure on the nanoscale. Innovative artists, engineers, scientists, and designers have begun to apply nanoscale research to create new and better products. Nanotechnology can be found in products such as anti-microbial (less smelly) socks, flexible solar panels, and iridescent automobile paint inspired by iridescent peacock feathers. Even the images you watch on the screen on your television or smart phone are produced by nano-sized liquid crystals.

Invent your own thin film artwork ... no paint required!


  •  Black construction paper
  •  Pan
  •  Clear nail polish
  •  Water


  1. Fill the pan with water.
  2. Completely submerge the black construction paper in the water.
  3. Use the nail polish brush to drip one drop of clear nail polish onto the center of the water--not onto the paper! The nail polish will spread out into a thin film.
  4. Lift the paper out of the water and the film will stick.
  5. Allow the paper to dry and enjoy your artwork!

The nail polish spreads out into a super--‐thin film, which creates iridescent, rainbow colors on the paper. The Thin film is only a few hundred nanometers thick, about as thick (or thin!) as a soap bubble. The film is slightly thicker in some places and thinner in others. As the thickness of the film changes, so do the colors.

The film reflects light differently depending on how thick it is, so you see different colors. White light is made up of all wavelengths, or colors, of light. Wavelengths that are in sync, hitting the front and back of the film, are reflected back to your eyes as bright colors. Different wavelengths are in sync at different parts of the film depending on its thickness.

Many beautiful things in nature get their iridescent colors this way—through the constructive interference of light. Bird feathers, butterfly wings, sea shells, and beetles all have nano-sized, semi-transparent layers that create an iridescent effect when they reflect light.

Want to learn more about nanoscale science and engineering? Check out these links:

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