Nanotech Database

Article Title:
Images and Icons

Toumey, Chris

Journal Information:
Nature Nanotechnology
Vol. 5, Num. 1


The question in this article is one of vision: what does it mean that the images of atoms and molecules as seen through scanning probe microscopes are not what they really look like? Using something he calls critical epistemology, Toumey questions how representations of atoms and molecules and their relative faith to the real images of bodies too small for human eyes to see effect both scientists and laypersons as they try to comprehend what nanotechnology is all about. He compares this thought with eighth- and ninth-century Christianitys iconoclasm crisis, where members of the church battled over the legitimacy of icons (or idols) and whether they had any intrinsic worth. Like the Second Council of Nicea, Toumey sees the images produced by these microscopes as imperfect but useful in bringing people to terms with what would otherwise be an ineffable presence. While he would like to see science and art work together more closely to solve this conundrum, Toumey recognizes that incorporating other senses as well as taking advantage of whatever sight allows will help people to better come to terms with nanotechnology and its materials.