From: Hannah Pell

The potential impact of a work of art is in no way limited or associated with its size. Whether an intricate mural stretching across the side of a building or a sculpture chiseled on the tip of a pencil, the art of all scales is meaningful and meaningful to us, and the principles of optics determine the scientific source of visual beauty.

I’ve previously written for Physics Buzz about how conservationists use imaging techniques to study whether a work of art is real or fake – but what if I told you that an advanced paint-by-laser method is actually used to create works of art can be, including miniature masterpieces?

This is exactly what researchers at ITMO University in Russia have achieved. In an article that will be published shortly in Optica, an online and open access journal of the Optical Society (OSA), the authors demonstrate their new method of using lasers to color metal, much like artists working with paint with a brush.

How does it work? The metal is first heated above the melting temperature, as is normally the case with other processes. When it cools down, a thin metal oxide film forms on the surface. Light is then reflected from the metal oxide layer to produce different colors depending on the thickness of the film. Since this technique heats the metal almost to the point of evaporation, researchers can even erase or change the color of an area that has already been painted over. This paper is an extension of the authors’ earlier work, which uses lasers to create colors on titanium and stainless steel.

“With this approach, an artist can create miniature art that conveys complex meaning not only through shape and color, but also through various laser-induced microstructures on the surface,” first author Vadim Veiko told OSA.

The authors demonstrated their technique by recreating tiny adaptations of masterpieces, including a 3×2-inch version of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” in just four minutes, and creating their own original artwork. Her earlier work also includes laser-decorated silver jewelry and replicas of artist’s illustrations.

Photo credit: Yaroslava Andreeva.

How fast are we all going to paint with lasers? The authors hope to possibly design a handheld device that could replace a brush so that artists can “paint” directly on metallic surfaces. “We hope that laser painting will attract the attention of modern artists and lead to the creation of a whole new kind of art,” author Yaroslava Andreeva told OSA. In addition, the researchers believe that this technique could be useful for industrial applications as the “paintings” do not require any special type of storage.

Perhaps this technique opens the door to a new artistic medium; It would certainly not be the first time technology has changed art (and vice versa). Just as opticians continue to experiment, artists also experiment with the common goal of understanding, capturing and interpreting the world around us.


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