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Disappearing Writing With UV Laser Reveals Whitening Agents In Myriad Products

Aug 07, 2023

Many a budding maker has experimented with invisible inks, with a wide variety of solutions having a viable set of properties for this purpose. However, [Ben Krasnow] stumbled upon a different method entirely when tinkering with a UV laser.

The laser in question was a MNL100 UV laser, configured to produce nanosecond-scale 20 kW pulses at up to 24 Hz, operating at wavelength of 337 nm, deep in the ultraviolet. After piping the laser light through an optical fiber and aiming it at some regular white paper, dark marks were observed, which disappear without a trace over the course of a few minutes.

Upon investigation, the dark marks seemed to be the result of fluorescent whitening agents in the paper. It appears they are overloaded or otherwise changed chemically by the laser, and slowly return back to normal over time. Further experiments showed that hydrogen peroxide was able to remove the marks instantly, and an argon atmosphere slowed the rate at which the marks faded.

It's an interesting look at an odd chemical effect, with the benefit of a well-equipped optics lab to analyse what's going on. Following the phenomenon down the rabbit hole leads to some tips on how to extract fluorescent additives from common laundry detergent. Be it paper, plastic, or textile, if it looks really bright white to your eye it probably contains stilbene organic compounds as optical brighteners, a hidden trait you never actually thought about before. Video after the break.