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History of Science

Examples of major events in science and how they have shaped the field.

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Printing with Light

Printing with Light

Credit: Cormaggio
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Anna_Atkins_algae_cyanotype.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

This pretty blue picture would not have been possible without electromagnetic waves from the sun. The energy of sunlight was used to produce the image on sun-sensitive paper. The picture was created by Anna Atkins, a British scientist who was the first female photographer.

News You Can Use

  • The picture above was made with the help of electromagnetic waves called ultraviolet light. These waves have shorter wavelengths, higher frequencies, and more energy than visible light, which is the light we can see.
  • Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/3927825968/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    NASA collected ultraviolet radiation from space to create this ultraviolet portrait of the Andromeda galaxy [Figure2]

  • Because of their high energy levels, ultraviolet waves can cause chemical reactions. The chemical reactions they cause on special sun-sensitive paper or fabrics produce images like the one above.
  • You can learn how to make your own designs with UV light on sun-sensitive fabric with the slideshow at this URL: http://www.gardendesign.com/how-to/diy-sunprint

Can You Apply It

Learn more about Anna Atkins and using ultraviolet light to make prints at the links below. Then answer the questions that follow.

  1. What is a cyanotype?
  2. What chemicals are used to create cyanotypes? How are they added to the paper or fabric?
  3. Why is ultraviolet light needed to create a cyanotype? What role does it play in the process?
  4. It takes varying amounts of exposure time to UV light to make a cyanotype. What factors influence the amount of exposure time needed?
  5. Why must you rinse the paper or fabric with cold water as soon as the print is made?
  6. Outline the steps you would take to make a leaf pattern on sun-sensitive fabric.
  7. Who was Anna Atkins? How did she use cyanotypes? Why was her use of cyanotypes so important?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Cormaggio; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Anna_Atkins_algae_cyanotype.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/3927825968/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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