Erasing the Day?

Sorry it’s been a week since we last posted. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been any good physics stories or deep thoughts on physics – since we all know physicists work even on their days off – it just means we’ve been busy with turkey and family and Hawaii (yeah, I wish that was me).

The Palo Alto Research Center Incorporated and Xerox Research Center of Canada are working together to create erasable paper – paper that be reused many times, according to a New York Times story. Apparently office workers today use paper mainly for daily tasks, such as making notes or printing emails for quick reference, and rely on computers for long term storage.

I know that I’m constantly throwing away or recycling post-its and notebooks full of random notes that have contributed to a finished product safely stored (I hope) on a network drive. So, says Xerox, why not make paper whose ink fades in 16 hours? Then you can reuse it over and over. Not a bad idea, as long as you don’t accidentally print your boarding pass on said piece of paper 17 hours before you have to board the plane. That would be bad.

The article doesn’t go into much detail about the process, with the explanation consisting of “[the paper is] based on compounds that can change color when they absorb a certain wavelength of light, but can then gradually revert to their original.” I need a little more than that to go on. It kind of reminds me of the secret codes we wrote when I was younger – dip a toothpick in lemon juice, write a “secret message” and hold the paper up to a lamp or under an iron to read it.

Of course the big question in all of this is – will there be a market for such technology? It is supposed to be cost-effective (Xerox plans to make the paper available for 2-3x the cost of regular non-reusable paper), but as people turn more and more to electronics to write and store their information, who knows if there will be a visible payoff for this research…

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