Vintage Vision

Is it yellowing? It MUST be vintage!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Have you noticed your old gameboy turning yellow? Why does that happen?

Margaret Elmer-Dixon and researchers at University of Minnesota Duluth shed light on the phenomenon. LITERALLY! They investigated how plastics interact with sunlight. But they needed to compare them to something well-studied. Enter bovine serum albumin, or BSA. It’s a biomolecule that we’ve studied–in ALL KINDS of light!

Researchers coated plastic in BSA. The BSA behaved differently than it SHOULD have on its own. These changes HAD to be because of the plastic underneath–and it revealed the TRUE chemical culprits!

UV light was thought to transform plastic molecules into a new yellow material. This study revealed light ACTUALLY makes plastic molecules tangle into SUPRAMOLECULAR SHAPES. These structures interact with light so it just LOOKS yellow to our eyes.

Understanding the quirks of aging materials can help us design longer-lasting products.

So, … keeping things “good as new” … might not be too good to be true!

Reference: Elmer-Dixon, M. M., Fawcett, L. P., Hinderliter, B. R., & Maurer-Jones, M. A. (2022, August 16). Could Superficial Chiral Nanostructures Be the Reason Polyethylene Yellows as It Ages? ACS Applied Polymer Materials, 4(9), 6458–6465.