The Power and Potential of Melanin: Embracing Diversity and Driving Innovation
As a child, I didn’t think much about race. That is until I went to Ghana for the first time with my family. My mother is black, my father is white, and I have a mixed-race younger brother and sister. My Mother, older brother and I were the only ones with black skin.
From the moment we arrived in Ghana, it was clear that my father was treated like royalty by both children and adults alike. It was as if he were the second coming, while my younger siblings received privileges and adoration. Meanwhile, my older brother and I were insignificant in the racial hierarchy. It was a painful and confusing moment for me. It was the first time I realised that being black was not something to be proud of, but something that could make you feel inferior and excluded.
Black people and the pigment in our skin have been the target of negative stereotypes and prejudice ever since the idea of whiteness and blackness was developed. Society’s idealisation of whiteness has made black people feel inferior, and the melanin in our skin has been utilised to reinforce that feeling. Many people with darker skin tones have internalised the concept that they are inferior because of our appearance, so we constantly doubt and hate ourselves.
Black people have been held back for too long by false stereotypes, but the moment has come to see our genuine beauty and strength. Discussion, adoration, and discrimination based on skin colour have surrounded black people for millennia. Despite this, we now know that the melanin in our skin is not only protective, but also offers enormous promise in technology, especially in the domains of electronics and photonics.
Diversity of all kinds, including skin colour, should be celebrated and embraced, and the unique contributions of people from all walks of life should be acknowledged. The result will be a society in which everyone’s contributions are recognised and appreciated for what they bring to the table.
Melanin is a protective pigment that occurs naturally in humans and other animals. The higher melanin content of black skin can be a source of pride for some black people but for others, it is shameful. For electronic and photonic uses, melanin has recently come to the attention of scientists because of its potentially useful qualities. In some areas, melanin could be quite useful, so instead of being ashamed of our skin colour, we should be celebrating it.
Beyond its potential in technology, melanin has a range of benefits for human health. For example, it is known to offer protection against the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, which can cause skin cancer and premature ageing. Melanin helps to absorb and dissipate UV radiation, which is particularly important for people living in areas with high levels of sunlight. It also helps to protect the skin against oxidative stress, a process that can lead to cell damage and contribute to ageing and disease.
Melanin has also been linked to a range of other health benefits. For instance, it has been found to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help protect against chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Additionally, melanin has been shown to help regulate sleep and circadian rhythms, which are essential for good health and well-being.
Furthermore, recent research has suggested that melanin may play a role in regulating mood and emotions. Melanin is produced in the same cells as neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain. It is thought that melanin may act as a natural mood stabiliser, helping to regulate the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain and promote feelings of well-being and happiness.
Building biocompatible electronics is one of the most exciting prospects for melanin-based electronics. There are a lot of electronic implants and devices out there, and some of them are comprised of materials that can actually be harmful to your body if you put them in there. Melanin, on the other hand, is an appealing option because it is biocompatible and possesses anti-inflammatory qualities.
Our melanin-rich skin has an innate capacity to interact safely with electrical gadgets and implants. Furthermore, melanin can be used in targeted drug administration and imaging applications due to its capacity to bond with specific molecules and metals, suggesting that melanin-based technologies may one day completely transform the medical industry. Melanin’s many uses in different fields make it an important component in modern science and medicine.
Melanin has also shown promise in the field of photovoltaics. Organic solar cells have been shown to benefit from the addition of melanin as a coating, improving their efficiency by up to 30%. This means that our skin has the potential to contribute to the development of renewable energy sources, and we should be proud of this fact.
In addition, melanin-based materials have been used to create biodegradable plastics and even water filtration systems. The potential uses of melanin are vast and exciting, and further research could lead to even more innovative applications. There’s a chance this will inspire innovators to create greener, more durable devices. The acceptance of melanin’s inherent qualities may also lead to a more holistic appreciation of and approach to other natural resources.
Another area where melanin could be used is in photonics, where it has unique optical properties that could be harnessed to create more efficient devices. In a recent study, researchers created a light-scattering film using melanin, which could be used to enhance the brightness and contrast of displays. Additionally, melanin has been shown to have potential applications in the development of photonic devices, such as modulators and switches.
This means that our skin colour can inspire the development of new technology that benefits society. The use of melanin in photonics could lead to the creation of more sustainable and eco-friendly devices, as it is a natural and abundant pigment. This could also reduce the reliance on synthetic materials and contribute to a more circular economy.
While the potential for melanin in electronics and photonics is promising, there are several challenges that need to be addressed before it can be successfully implemented. One of the biggest challenges is controlling the electrical and optical properties of melanin, which can vary depending on its composition. However, by embracing the unique properties of melanin, we can work towards overcoming these challenges and unlocking the full potential of this remarkable pigment.
Another challenge is the difficulty of producing melanin in large quantities at a low cost. However, researchers are exploring various methods to address this issue, such as using genetically modified bacteria to produce melanin or developing synthetic routes to produce melanin-like materials.
Knowing that something as basic as skin tone may carry such great potential is inspiring as a Black person. The advancement of our understanding of melanin’s role in electronics and photonics is a source of pride and dignity and of great technological significance. We can finally put race issues behind us and stop treating ourselves as second-class citizens.
Instead, let’s recognise the special qualities of our melanin and the power it has to shape the future, and then embrace and celebrate it. These findings also bring attention to the work of black scientists and researchers and challenge the standard Eurocentric account of technological advancement. The continued investment in and encouragement of different viewpoints and voices in the STEM professions is crucial to the advancement of society as a whole.
As we continue to expand our technological horizons, let us not forget the power and potential of melanin. Let us embrace and celebrate the beauty of our black skin, and use our knowledge to make meaningful contributions to the development of this innovative study. We have the ability to set the pace of change and shape the future of technology. By recognising the value of melanin, we can usher in a brighter day for everyone.
However, we must also work towards ensuring that all individuals and communities have access to the tools that will help them realise the full potential of melanin. It is not enough to simply celebrate its benefits; we must actively work to create a future where everyone can benefit from the unique and powerful properties of melanin.
In doing so, we also recognise the importance of culturally conscious mental health, and the impact that our perceptions of beauty and superiority have on our well-being. By embracing and celebrating the beauty and strength of black skin, we can combat the negative stereotypes and discrimination perpetuated for far too long.
Visit www.bempongtalkingtherapy.com for more information on cultivating a culturally conscious mindset and prioritising your mental health. Let us continue to push the boundaries of what is possible, and use our knowledge and strength to create a more just and equitable future for all.
- J.C. Weaver et al. “Electronic control of cell surfaces using self-assembled biointerfaces”. ACS Nano, 2013.
- S. Sassi et al. “Melanin-based coatings for efficient solar steam generation under one sun illumination”. Advanced Materials, 2018.
- T. Caruso et al. “Melanin-based photonics: from bioinspiration to bioapplications”. ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, 2019.
- “Melanin: the Biopolymer That Revolutionized Materials Science,” by Azam Gholizadeh and Geoffrey Ozin, Angewandte Chemie International Edition (2015).
- “Melanin-Based Electronics: Materials, Devices and Prospects,” by Elisabetta Salatelli, Paolo Facci, and Paolo Calvani, Advanced Materials (2020).
- “The Science of Melanin: Applications in Biomedicine and Beyond,” edited by Rashad A. Hauter and Niki M. Zacharias, Springer (2019).
- “The Societal and Cultural Influences on Ethnoracial Identity Formation: The Case of Melanin-Based Identity Among African Americans,” by Robert T. Carter and Stephanie M. Madsen, Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology (2007).