Chemistry lab

Faculty strike gold with safer way to make color ceramics

March 5, 2021

RESEARCH & INNOVATION

Three science faculty colleagues at the University of Richmond have been issued a patent for a glaze process that is a safer, more cost-effective, and more colorful alternative to current methods.

“Normal colorants usually involve toxic heavy metals," said Michael Leopold,Floyd D. and Elisabeth S. Gottwald Professor of Chemistry. "This alternative coloring system for ceramic glazes uses a small amount of gold or silver nanoparticles, which are safer to include for food and beverages and also environmentally more friendly.”

The process was conceived and developed by Ryan Coppage, director of introductory laboratories in the chemistry department, who directed the project, provided materials, and mentored the student researchers involved. The American Chemical Society has called his research the “gold standard” in safer ceramic coatings. 

The technology will have wide commercial applicability, including the production of tiles and large-scale ceramics and will also be used by individual ceramic artists.

Researchers on the patent include Coppage, Leopold, and Christine Lacy, director of microscopy and imaging in the biology department. 

The patent is specifically for the preparation of gold nanoparticle ceramic glazes, which the authors wrote “add new colors to the known ceramic surface palette and offers greater consumer safety.” Other current methods pose a risk for toxic metal leaching from the finished ceramic product into soil, for example, or food and drinks.

Artisans have used similar concepts for centuries, grinding gold and silver into a powder to make stained glass windows and chalices, the researchers said. The team’s patented method also allows companies continue to use existing equipment and firing methods.

Coppage and Leopold have collaborated on this project since 2015, and Lacy ran microscopy samples in the Biological Imaging Lab. Testing and firing of the ceramic glaze formulation was performed at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, where Coppage is a part-time instructor.

Note: The photo above was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.