Nano & Pico Characterization Lab Microscope

Art and science have us look at the world in different ways, to see the invisible and imagine the impossible. Yesterday's NanoLab workshops and lab visits brought us through many orders of magnitude and many scales of construction, from single atoms in a graphene sheet observed by home-made microscopes at the pico characterization lab to the precise etching of silicon wafers in the clean lab to building our own microscopes out of $3 webcams.

Microscopes made by NanoLab students

Webcam/Microscope images taken by NanoLab students

When does hacking become precision engineering? When do microscope images become art? We draw a line between science and art (even in the title of the Sci|Art NanoLab), but that line is fuzzy and crossing or ignoring the boundary altogether can be a lot more fun than enforcing the separation. We spent the day making images, learning about optics, building machines, meeting and observing scientists and artists and people in between. Are we doing art or science?

Our students are learning right on top of this fuzzy boundary, and the difference doesn't seem to be that important to them. I hope that this is a sign of a generational trend, that in the future we won't feel pigeonholed by a discipline or a university department (a feeling that most of the instructors--just ten years older than the students--describe when talking about their education and their work). I'm not sure how it will all turn out, but perhaps growing up at this boundary, seeing and making in-between, will make the "two cultures" obsolete.