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A note for the Geeks

Just how small is “nano?” In the International System of Units, the prefix “nano” means one-billionth, or 10-9; therefore one nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. It’s difficult to imagine just how small that is, so here are some examples:

  • A human hair is about 100,000 nanometers (100 microns) thick
  • The scale is these sculptures approximately equals the amount your fingernails grow every 5 or 6 hours.

 

So how is it made?

The structure is created using a ground-breaking new 3D printing technology and a technique called Multiphoton Lithography. Ultimately these works are created using the physical phenomenon of two photon absorption. Art, literally created with Quantum Physics.

If you illuminate a light-sensitive polymer with Ultra Violet wavelengths, it solidifies wherever it was irradiated in a kind of crude lump. Some of you may have experienced a polymer like this first hand at the dentist when your filling is glued in with a UV light.

If however you use longer wavelength intense light, and focus it tightly through a microscope, something wonderful happens: at the focus point, the polymer absorbs TWO PHOTONS and responds as if it had been illuminated by UV light, namely it will solidify. This two photon absorption occurs only at the tiny focal point - basically a tiny 3D pixel (called a Voxel). The sculpture is then moved along fractionally by a computer controlled process and the next pixel is created. Slowly, over hours and hours the entire sculpture is assembled pixel by pixel and layer by layer.

A note for the hippies

This sculpture was photographed using the almost-magical light properties of photonic crystals. Opal for example contains a photonic microstructure responsible for its iridescent color. Opal is a stone that is said to inspire imagination and creativity.

Photonic effects were first studied In 1887 by the English physicist Lord Rayleigh, whose claim to fame is his explanation (the first) of why the sky is blue.

 

Myth vs science

As technology starts to evolve faster than our human perception is able to handle, the line between science and myth becomes blurred.

We live in an era where the impossible has finally come to pass. In our own little way we have become demi-gods of creation. "Contemporary" art, in my humble view, needs to reflect the human condition as it is today, it needs to represent the state of society at the time of its creation. Take a moment to consider that only 6,000 years ago we were painting crude animal images on the walls of caves with rocks. We have come far. This nano sculpture is the collective achievement of all of humanity.  It is the culmination of thousands of years of R&D.

The nano works that I present to you here represent more that just a feat of science though.  They represent the moment in history that we ourselves are able to create a full human form at the same scale as the sperm that creates us in order to facilitate the creation.  Its a bit like breaking the artistic sound barrier.

The absolute fact is this: the human eye is unable to see these sculptures.  All you see is a small mirror with ... nothing on it.  The only way to perceive these works is on the screen of powerful scanning electron microscope. So how can you ever know that this sculpture really exists?  Your only way to engage with it is through a screen, and a mouse separating you and the art via a vacuum and a series of mathematically mind-blowing quantum processes that shower the art with particles to map its contours.   Can you be sure of its existence if your basic senses are telling you that nothing is there? The line between myth and science is fine.  To celebrate this, I have based these sculptures on they beautiful myth of Cupid and Psyche.

For the poets

On the 13th November, the day after the launch of these sculptures, leading UK poet and performer ANT the RANT had the follow to say:

This poem was written
On a pinhead
In nanometre
In fonts a miniscule high
The tiniest expression
Of Amazement
Art as vast and brief
As an Imagination
Of Critics, clustered
Around a microscope
Jostling to make
Gargantuan opinions
The world holds its breath
As a priceless collection
Vanishes. Inhaled.
Caught in the hair
Of a sneering nostril
The Mona Lisa smiles
Imperceptibly amused
That we always found her
Smaller than we imagined
As if she knows there is space
In the thickness of
A scant layer of paint
To shape a MicroCosmos
Of smirks and scowls

 

 

 

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