My thesis-writing related cabin fever got briefly interrupted today through a message from a friend (thanks, Richard!) who pointed out this exciting project to me: making ice cream clouds with the flavour of your choice to start conversations about nanotechnology!
The ice cream clouds are manufactured within a blue ice cream van, complete with ‘mind that nano particle’ signage. And you thought my plasticine idea was weird!
Source: The Cloud Project
According to the website, the van currently resides at the RCA itself, so go check it out and chose your personal dialogue flavour. There are some connected events, too, such as talks by nano artists and scientists. If you cannot make it, the project website has some photographs and lots of information around the project.
Here is a ‘taster’:
“Developments in nanotechnology and planetary-scale engineering point to new possibilities for us to conform the global environment to our needs. These advances combined with a dream to make clouds snow ice cream have inspired a series of experiments that look at ways to alter the composition of clouds to make new and delicious sensory experiences. Using ice-cream as a catalyst for interesting dialogue, the project’s focus is to welcome people into a mobile space that sits outside institutions, letting new audiences experience and imagine emerging scientific developments and their consequences.”
One of my participants (thanks, Lolo!) has just sent me this video. It is part of a ‘NanoTube’ competition to make a video explaining nanotechnology.
There are currently a lot of multimedia and art competitions around nanotechnology. Even the ‘nano’ industry magazine features a regular art section. A fellow PhD student is currently working on a related project on nano imagery called ‘Imaging the Invisible’. Am very curious about the outcome!
There are going to be three more workshops in December. One in Southampton, another one in Nottingham and one at the OU in Camden.
The workshop in Nottingham is on 9 December 2008 from 6-8pm!
I will post the other details here shortly. If you would like to participate in any of those workshops, please contact me via the Contact section or leave a comment!
Alessandro Scali & Robin Goode, Actual size, 2007, 100 µm, Atomic Force Microscope
…is a comment that I have seen on a number of geography blogs. I am surprised I have not seen it on this blog, as I have been asked this question outside the virtual many times. There are many reasons why geographers are interested in matter, in the liveliness of the inorganic, in new technologies, in ‘invisible processes’.
The most popular reason, as art curator Stefano Raimondi put it in the magazine Nano, ‘the infinitely small increasingly interacts with our daily reality’. While one could argue with the word ‘increasingly’ and be tempted to replace it with ‘in increasingly different ways’, he is probably right when it comes to news coverage of ‘micro’ and ‘nano’ events. Whether it is issues around sustainability (energy consumption, food security, biodiversity, artificial nature, climate change), security (smart environments, sensors), communication (new mobile devices, electro smog), medicine (mysterious diseases, medical monitoring, genetic engineering), economy (production and location of production of new technologies), these material events, whether self-generated or produced, are ever present and affecting us and our planet.
Secondly, geographers are concerned about the language of geographical conquest and exploration that is used by proponents of new technologies: are the micro and nano scale the new virgin territories for human exploitation and colonisation?
Questions that pose themselves in this context are, for instance: How far do we want to control nature? How much control do different groups of people have over what is done at this scale? How do people relate to the nano or micro scale? What do converging technologies mean for us? The academic journal ‘Area’ published a number of articles on ‘Geographies of Nano-Technoscience’, which deal with some of these questions.
Many geographers are also interested in how space is thought. The physical processes at the atomic or sub-atomic level pose an interesting challenge and inspiration, e.g. for people such as Derek McCormack or Stephan Harrison of Oxford University.
These are just three examples of how geographers are interested in ‘mutable matter’. I hope they have contributed to answering your question!
One of the perks of doing research is that you get to see lots of intimidating institutions (or institutions you had never heard of) from the inside that you normally just read about in the papers when ‘expert opinions’ are needed. So far, I’ve been to the Institute of Physics, the Royal Academy of Engineering (which had surprisingly good vegetarian catering!), the Royal Geographical Society and, today, the Royal Society (without anything behind it).
The first thing I noticed inside were the marble walls – they looked kind of antique, but had these modern vent slits carved into them, which, together with the modern halogen lighting and glass-doors, gave the place a truly post-modern feel and for a moment took me back to the Louise Bourgeois exhibition I went to last year! Indeed, I had come to these marble walls with the intention of hearing about something more squishy – a lecture on nanotechnology and food – just because I was curious how my favourite mutable matter (I also have a cookery blog and work as a volunteer cook for a charity) was talked about in context with recent technological developments.
The ‘Albert Franks Memorial Lecture’ entitled ‘Micro and Nanotechnologies for Food – a Healthy and Safe Option?’ was open to the public and did not require any specialist knowledge at all. Its content was more or less what this BBC article tells us about researchers’ attempts to make junk food consumers eat more healthily:
BBC NEWs – Future foods: friend or foe? Nanotechnology – the food industry’s (and junk food eating couch potato’s?) ultimate fantasy? We shall probably know sooner that we can down a cup of Starbuck’s extra-super-omni-flavour-godknowswhat. Apparently, cereal packaging has already been modified to tell us about the benefits of nano foods! Not like this one though…
Source: Food For Design
Of course, this was not the only topic of the two-hour talk, but it took up the biggest part. Electronic tagging of food (and ‘electronic noses’ that can tell the composition of foods just by being near it) for people with allergies, packaging for perishable goods to increase shelf-life and visual indicators for ripeness were other examples of the University of Wageningen’s research.
For me, it was particularly interesting to hear people discuss things such as healthy eating and the effects of modern farming on nutrient content of food in context with what tends to be perceived as an ‘unnatural’ technology, at least, according to the speaker Frans Kampers, director of the Wageningen biotechnology centre for food and health innovation.
After the lecture, I was actually surprisingly hungry… not for junk food though! ;)
During one of my searches for ‘nanoscale’ images I came across the usual computer generated and airbrushed SciFi imagery of nanotechnology illustration. Normally I just note them, grin and continue my search for STM images. But the caption under the above image actually made me stop.
‘Computer artwork of a kogin spacebloom, part of a fictional 23rd-century range of edible space flora (xflora). Spaceblooms combine nanotechnology and biotechnology. Several metres in diameter, they drift or move through space, feeding, growing, reproducing, and being harvested for food and other products. Kogin moves by newclear power.’
Wow. That was one step beyond – and one refreshing bit more entertaining (as an avid SciFi reader, I’m a bit spoiled when it comes to visions of the future…).
Of course I immediately had to look two things up: one was the book these images had come from and the other one was whether people were actually working on ‘edible space flora’ (or fauna – think ‘pigs in space’…) – since reading the White House’s pages on space colonisation I wouldn’t put anything past NASA (where has the page gone?). Of course, my suspicion was confirmed: NASA is working on ‘space flora’ – in conjunction with Mars terra-forming (for future US explorers).
A ‘proposed mission’ could test these plants on Mars within 2007 (er, that’s this year). And, of course, the idea if we can use Mars as a preservation habitat for threatened Earth species is not far, not to mention the ‘resources in space’ question that appears on the Foresight Institute for Nanotechnology’s pages…
There is another strand of ‘space flora’ that is under development: plants that can be taken on space travels to feed astronauts and keep them happy: initial trials have found that ‘Space age gardening’ with the help of ’salad machines’ have ‘psychological benefits’. According to this article, ‘foreseeable advances in biotech and nanotech’ would even permit researchers ‘to alter plants’ genes so that their cells produce little molecular sensors, transmitters, and receivers. These would monitor the plants internally and report on their health to ensure a good crop, and could even make the plants controllable, sprouting and flowering on cue.’ Other ideas are to make the plants produce protective chemicals against radiation in space or new planets or using ‘nanotech devices in the plants’ cells’ to ‘deliver light directly to the cell parts that perform photosynthesis, making the plants more efficient.’ Apparently, ‘we can’t quite do it now, but nothing we are considering is against the laws of physics or chemistry or nature.’ Somebody isn’t exactly lacking confidence here… At the moment, as a humble Earth creature, you can actually be part of this plant project. There is the BioBLAST® Plant Production Simulator, NASA’s ’Farming In Space’ youth quest or the Whitehouse’sMars Millennium Project for kids.
The Guardian reports on a more sober issue of ‘space farming’: using sensors in space to monitor our fields. The article tells us that ‘it is easier for a satellite in space to see whether a crop needs watering than for a farmer on the ground’. One of the developers of the technology envisions the future of farming as ‘The satellite images show what is needed and a robot fixes it.’ As an afterthought he adds that ‘here will need to be some cultural changes, though. It’s hard to separate a farmer from his wellies.’ Well, no need to separate farmers from wellies, when the robot is out and about ‘fixing’ crops, the farmer can do whatever he or she likes!
After this futuristic take on the use of nano and biotech, I wondered what the ‘Spacebloom’ project had in store. I was not disappointed. ‘Spacebloom : A Field Guide to Cosmic Xflora’ starts with a SciFi timeline, continues with detailed descriptions of 23rd century ‘Xflora’ descriptions and even supplies recipes! As one reviewer remarks, this all seems a bit silly, but Martin Naroznik, the creator of the flying nutrients (some of which even ‘bite back’) counters with something (perhaps) surprisingly ‘unsilly’. In an article in Wired Magazine on NASA’s interest in his work, a NASA spokesperson remarks, that his work may be inspiring for future generations, yet maybe not conservative enough. Naroznik comments: ‘In our collective imagination, when we think of space, we always have huge space ships and weapons. Why not have something we can go out and collect, and come home and make pie?’
I like hanging out on this website of the Technical University of Vienna which shows how atoms are arranged on metal surfaces (I can see a new breed emerging: the ‘nano voyeur’…). What do I find so fascinating about these images?
1. It’s atoms! (well, sort of…)
2. These atoms arrange themselves in amazingly intricate and regular patterns – like fabric weaves or labyrinths.
3. The atoms in these images look like sweetcorn!
What I also like is the commentary accompanying these images. First of all, there is an Angela-friendly animation of how the machine works that obtains these images for us (it’s kind of like a record player basically). Then, an enthusiastic scientist tells us how atoms ‘bounce’, ‘get stuck’ or ‘wander about’ and engage in all sorts of other activities. There are also good examples of how these images help explain how things work in ‘our world’!
Sunflower Fragments 02 by Cris Orfescu
Another website I keep coming back to is the NanoArt site of the scientist/artist Cris Orfescu. My reasoning is that the next step after ‘nano voyeurism’ must be that you either want to obtain your own images from that scale – or want to be even less passive and mess around with ‘nano-matter’ (is that how a ‘nanoscientist’ feels? ;D). Well, you can kind of do that on the website, where Orfescu each year provides ‘the public’ with a series of nanoscale images, which you can manipulate in an artistic fashion and enter into a ‘NanoArt’ competition. Orfescu sees this process as a way of engaging people with the nanoscale or, more specifically, nanotechnology, which he believes will have an enormous impact on our life in the future. He invites questions in the form of artwork, but also seems happy to answer e-mails about his work as either an artist or scientist. Guess what I’ve been up to today… ;)
I often find it amusing how things that don’t have a fixed image are illustrated by graphic designers/artists for magazines and newspapers. Examples are emotions, university subjects or new technologies. A lot of these images are fairly what we expect them to look like: a woman cringing in pain and putting a hand on her forehead in headache tablet adverts, a image of the Earth symbolising ‘geography’, some weird space robots signifying ‘nanotechnology’. Wait a moment: weird space robots signifying ‘nanotechnology’? How do they get from these to space robots? Obviously there is more than just a little projection going on.
Source: nearing zero
Bioengineering gets a similar absurd treatment with ripe tomatoes getting injections from scarily-clad ‘scientists’ and, as we expect, lots of gloves, gasmasks, goggles, test tubes, syringes and ‘code’/double helix imagery. A surprise was the astronaut with the giant egg though… I bet the artist had this idea over continental breakfast! Talking of weird imagery within the weird: sometimes people are trying to break the mould by using different kinds of images (whatever different means to them). For instance, I remember one Open University prospectus for Geography sporting the drawing of a head with a ‘brain map’ illustrating our theorising about the world. Has anyone seen any examples for things like love, English or nanotechnology? :D
Other good examples of the invisible are quantum mechanics, energy and mathematical equations. What I need to mention in this context are the marvellously mad craft past-times of mathematicians, as seen in the news under ‘Crocheting Chaos’.
As further research brought to light, this is only the tip of the iceberg of wacky scientifically motivated craft activities. There is the home of mathematical knitting if you feel like knitting ‘moebius scarfs’, klein bottles or hyperbolic planes, but you can also make klein bottle handbags, pascal triangle needlepoint and a selection of stuffed, beaded, quilted goodies. So you don’t need to be Kenneth Snelson or a Benjamin Storch, you can just go for it from your comfy chair. Never has mathematics been so tangible!
By the way, my find of the day regarding ‘invisible things’ is the following site… http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/5251
A few weeks ago, I talked to someone about Mutable Matter and my desire to make people experience what is happening at the ‘nanoscale’ in symbolic ways. His instant reaction was: ‘Velcro suits’. Indeed, Velcro suits would be a means of illustrating what fellow blogger Richard Jones would describe as the ‘stickiness’ problem, or that of matter having different properties at a molecular level. This leads to amusing headlines such as: ‘Scientists discover water is sticky at a small scale’ .
This changing of properties brought back memories of my course against fear of flying, where the pilots described how they experienced flying more as navigating their vessel through a thick liquid – which is how the air felt to them. Further comparisons were made with ‘upside down ships’ (how comforting!). There are actually a few computer games on the web where you can ‘shrink yourself’ to the nanoscale and experience the properties of matter there, for instance, the Science Museum’s Duckboy in Nanoland. Don’t worry, I try not too take too much inspiration from that for my own project – nobody will have to swim through treacle!