Engineers make stretchy, color-changing film inspired by an old photo technique

By applying a 19th-century color photography technique to modern holographic materials, an MIT team has printed large-scale images onto elastic materials that when stretched can transform their color, reflecting different wavelengths as the material is strained
(Image credit: Mathias Kolle et al)

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have resurrected a 19th-century color photography technique but with a modern twist. For the first time, it is now possible to print large-scale, color-changing images onto elastic materials all thanks to Nobel prize winner Gabriel Lippmann and some clever MIT researchers. 

Between 1891 and 1894, Lippman was inventing a new method of color photography known as the Lippman process. Using a mirror, and a thin layer of panchromatic gelatin emulsion with ultra-fine grains silver, it was then sealed with mercury and photographed through the back of the plate. It was a lengthy process and today very few photographers practice it. One of the few is Nick Brandeth. In an interview with Pop Photo, he describes Lippmann's process as  “the bridge between holography and photography”. 

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.