HAPPY NEW YEAR! Every December 31st we celebrate with fireworks and kisses and toasts, but most importantly LOTS AND LOTS OF GLITTER! Think about it. It’s on our clothes, our decorations, our food, our noise makers. It is all so shiny and fun, but then the next morning rolls around and you realize that the glitter has gotten EVERYWHERE and you can’t get rid of it. You are going to be finding glitter from this one party for the whole rest of the year!
Unfortunately, just like how that glitter will stay forever in your home, it will also stay forever in our planet. Glitter is made of small pieces of metal that give it the shininess that we love, but then that metal is covered in tiny bits of colored plastic to create whatever color is desired. This colored covering is called a microplastic (plastic < 5mm long). Microplastics are hazardous to our environment because they get into our water systems and are small enough to get through the water filtration systems. Because they are so small they are found in almost every corner of the world, even the depths of the ocean. The study of their impact on nature is still new, but because they are small and difficult to clean up, they will continue to build up in quantity over time and could be quite catastrophic.
Luckily there are wonderful scientists like Silvia Vignolini, professor of chemistry at the University of Cambridge, who are trying to find solutions to this problem. While other scientists work on how to clean up the microplastics we already have, Dr. Vignolini is working on creating plant based substitutions for things which are currently made of these microplastics. One of these substitutions she is investigating is using plant cellulose to create glitter. Here is a beautiful artistic depiction of her work, taken from her website.
Dr. Vignolini’s research specifically focuses on color in nature. She wants to understand the different ways color is produced and how it can be used. Most things we use are colored through pigmentation. This color comes from the light interacting with the chemical characteristics of the material. She is interested in color based on light interacting with the PHYSICAL characteristics of the material. Nature has already found ways to have this shimmery appearance based on structure instead of pigmentation, think of a butterfly’s wings. When they flutter, they seem to sparkle. This happens due to structural color, not pigmentation.
Dr. Vignolini found that you can extract crystalline structures of cellulose, a biomass from plants. This crystalline structure forms layers which interact with light and create coloration like a prism. That’s right, part of a leaf can be used to make sparkly glitter just because of the structure of that cellulose. See for yourself.
For years, we have been using the same old glitter. Even when we knew it was harmful to the environment, we kept using it because it’s what we had always done. It was easier that way, but Dr. Vignolini and her team weren’t satisfied with the way it had always been done. They chose to try something new, to try to find something better. Today, I’m challenging you to do the same.
No, I’m not asking you to make some grand scientific discovery. Instead, I’m asking you to take a look at your prayer life, really think about it, and see if there isn’t a new and better way to approach it. This is the first full week of 2022 and everyone is looking for what they can do differently in this new year. So often we get into ruts in our prayer life because we found something that we like and so we just stick with it. We never look to see if there might actually be something different out there, something better. Well, I think we should change that.