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This Is the Lightest Paint in the World

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Dayna Baumeister, codirector of Arizona State University’s Biomimicry Center, isn’t surprised that the paint has so many hidden functions. “It’s a fantastic demonstration of what’s possible when we rethink our designs by asking nature for advice,” she says.

For all of its imperfections, paint is hard to beat. People have used pigments for millennia, so the tricks for getting the right look have been mastered by paint makers. “They know exactly what additive to add to change the glossiness; they can make it brighter or toned down—they have all of this figured out over hundreds of years,” Chanda says. 

New forms of paint must innovate beyond that—into the realm of physics, not just aesthetics. Still, Chanda’s lab members stumbled upon their innovation by accident. They hadn’t set out to make paint. They wanted to make a mirror, specifically a long, continuous, aluminum mirror, built using an instrument called an electron beam evaporator. But in every attempt, they’d notice small “nanoislands,” clumps of aluminum atoms tiny enough to be invisible yet…

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