- Nanotechnology, Nanoscale Science and Art
Nanotechnology is one of the fastest-growing fields of science. Through methods such as scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM), scientists have gained access to a new world of atomic scale manipulation and manufacturing, yielding materials as diverse as nanoparticle-impregnated stain-resistant clothes to quantum dots with unique optical properties. Despite the fact that many scientists have placed their work under the rubric of nanotechnology, the underlying conceptual basis that joins together all of the science within this framework makes an exact definition of nanotech/science difficult. From the perspective of a synthetic scientist nanotech/science will allow us to “build in a ‘bottom-up’ fashion” by “starting with individual molecules and bringing them together to form product parts in which every atom is in a precise, designed location” , while from the perspective of a physical scientist, nanotech/science would most likely be viewed as the study of physical phenomena that only occur on the nanoscale. The National Science Foundation (NSF) weaves these perspectives together loosely by defining nanotech/science as,
research and technology development at the atomic, molecular or macromolecular levels, in the length scale of approximately 1–100 nanometer range, to provide a fundamental understanding of phenomena and materials at the nanoscale and to create and use structures, devices and systems that have novel properties and functions because of their small and/or intermediate size .
This categorization is so broad that most of the field of chemistry would readily fit within it. If nothing else, the ambiguity of the focus and scope of nanotech/science has yielded a boon in creativity and productivity among scientists precisely because its parameters have not (yet) been overly narrowed.
The ambiguous focus and definitional scope of nanotech/science has also led to myriad conflicted, and at times inflated, notions of this new science’s potential: Will nanotech/ science create better means for solving environmental problems or more environmental hazards? Will it fundamentally alter how scientists understand their sensual relationship to scale? Will its resultant technologies have the impact that the silicon chip had in the late 20th century? And if so, what insights can art, artists, and scientists and artists together bring to bear on this potential revolution? Like scientists, artists have yet to realize and integrate the implications and potentialities of nanotech/science.
As can be seen in the papers and artwork in this first installment of the special section Nanotechnology, Nanoscale Science and Art, those few artists who have begun to probe the interconnections of art and nanotechnology have primarily focused on the technologies for “seeing” at the nanoscale and on scale itself. Some of the first works of art related to nano-technology have come from artists and scientists working with the tools of the nano trade (STM and AFM) to make static and animated painterly images viewable with the naked eye . In this vein the surface scientist Jane Bearinger has provided Leonardo with an abstract “nanolithograph” made from photographing—via a reflectance microscope—an etched silicone-silane surface that has been coated with a hydrogel and exposed to the breath. Coming in as close as possible to the bulk polymer-coated silicone makes the smallest of individual nano-objects visible, creating an image reminiscent of those made in the heyday of op-art. Inverting this conceptual process, the artist Filipe Rocha da Silva has used painting to explore [End Page 348] how macroscale structures, when viewed from a distance, expose aspects of the nanoscale. To do so he packs his large canvases with tiny recursive units of people, buildings and consumer goods, creating subjects that lose their individuality when viewed en masse like the atoms that make up the nanoscientist’s objects of study.
In 2002 artist Victoria Vesna and scientist James Gimzewski presented one of the first interactive artworks related to nanotechnology that allowed the viewer/participant to virtually “touch” and distort models of buckyballs—nanoscale molecules shaped like Buckminster Fuller’s emblematic geodesic dome; viewers thus simulated how actual molecules behave when interacting with the probe of a scanning tunneling microscope < http://notime.arts.ucla.edu/zerowave/zerowave.html >. Similarly...