Jennifer: Since hearing about the NanoVic Prizes for Art and Nanotechnologies, and viewing some of the award-winning work, I have been keeping my eyes open for other displays of scientific art. Back in November I received an email publicising a scientific photography exhibition organised by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Travelling to New York to attend in person was not an option, but I was able to take a virtual tour of the gallery instead, featuring the work of scientists from all around the world. The photographs- appealing visualisations of seldom-seen events- were drawn from the broadest range of scientific disciplines, including geology, medicine, biology, engineering, oceanography and physics.
A flash of vibrant orange and turquoise as I entered the gallery instantly captured my attention. I saw row upon row of beautiful orange nanospheres: a vision of little orange eggs, each modelling itself on the form of its neighbour. And then, suddenly: an egg is missing. In its place is a black crevice, shaped as if the unassuming nanosphere has been sucked out from underneath itself. A glaring omission, blemishing the vision of almost-perfect order.
Entitled “Aesthetic Imperfections”, the atomic force photomicrograph reveals dislocations in a photonic crystal arrangement of polystyrene nanospheres. Without the vivid colours generated by computer software, these transparent structures are instead defined by their topography, geometry and symmetry. It is these characteristics which give rise to the optical effects in the material, visible to the human eye. It is fascinating to ponder the interplay between different faces of the same object- the colourless world of the nano scale, and the iridescent play of colours on the macro scale.
The creator of “Aesthetic Imperfections” is Dr Hans Danzebrink of the German metrology institute, Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt. Upon seeing the artwork exhibited as part of RIT’s “Images From Science”, I contacted Dr Danzebrink to ask him more about it. I was thrilled by his prompt response- he was only too happy to impart his experience, and pronounced himself honoured by my request to reproduce the image. It was refreshing to encounter a research scientist so willing to share his work! The exhibition recognises the impact of photography in science, which is perhaps not appreciated to the same degree as in the art world. The plethora of images presents scientific data artistically, thus making scientific concepts accessible to society at large.
“Aesthetic Imperfections” now hangs at the foot of my bed, its vibrant colours reproduced on a sheet of canvas larger than a square metre. The other day, I called Dr Danzebrink’s office to tell him that it had finally arrived from the printers. Looking forward to practising some German on the phone, I was ready to execute my well-rehearsed, though very simplistic, vote of thanks. No sooner had I uttered the word “hallo”, than his secretary launched into fluent, articulate English. Her friendliness eased the blow of my having been identified as a foreigner at my first word, though surely “hallo” is pronounced more or less identically to its English equivalent? I can only assume that she must have seen the international “+61” calling code preceding my phone number on her caller ID display.
Despite the accompanying realisation that my Australian accent must be thicker than I thought, my “Aesthetic Imperfections” experience has been very rewarding. For me, it is a wonderful example of a nano-fostered international connection. I have been inspired by the many scientific photographs, which suggest appealing possibilities for my own raw atomic force microscope images. And, courtesy of Dr Danzebrink, I have also procured a stunning and unique piece of scientific art.