Saturday, April 10, 2004

The Art of Nano

Ladies, germs and mad scientists, I give you

ubercorrespondent and guest NanoBot blogger Jack Mason:

As a journalist, I've found nanotechnology an absorbing beat: fast-moving, thought-provoking and wide-ranging.

I never expected it to be an artistic inspiration. I've long marveled at some of the images of structures and materials made at the molecular level, strange and beautiful vistas smaller than the wavelengths of light visible only with tools that can sense or feel their actuality.

Six months ago, my fascination with those scenes of the unseeable lead me to start playing with some of the nanoscopic pictures I'd come across in the small tech world. From the start I tried to imitate how some of the nanoscientists I cover work: I blended and morphed pixels from multiple images much the way they are cajoling different atoms to form novel structures and patterns.


My metaphorical methods extended to digital techniques of self-assembly and layering. Where nanoscale researchers apply physics, chemistry and clever engineering to synthesize new materials, I employed software and the wetware of human visual intuition.

Last Friday, I picked up the first finished effort of the art project I've dubbed NanoTechno from Silicon Gallery Fine Art Prints, a shop in the Old City section of Philadelphia. The 3' by 4' image mixes a variety of images with a little digital manipulation to evoke, at least for me, the wonder of the nanoscale.


While the artistic merits of these experiments are as yet unproven, what's really interesting is that the printing technology used to make the digital physical is intriguingly small tech.

As Silicon Fine Arts' proprietor Rick Coyte explained, his $80,000 Iris 3047 printer uses an array of ultrafine inkjets that sprays droplets of special ink about the size of red blood cells. A piezoelectric crystal deposits about four million ink droplets per second to create an image with an apparent resolution of 1800 dpi. The result is so rich and smooth, that museums frequently make reproductions of invaluable paintings with the process. (see for details).


Now that my process is public, I want to take my nano-mimetic motif a step further and make this project a multidisciplinary collaboration. First, that means reaching out to the nanoworld for high-resolution images of small tech devices, materials and structures, the raw materials for artistic amalgamation. And second, I'm calling out all around the Web to other artists interested in collaborating and extending NanoTechno into new forms and media.

Got images? Ideas? Suggestions? Send them my way.


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