Nanotech Database

Article Title:
Corporations, Universities, and Instrumental Communities: Commercializing Probe Microscopy, 1981-1996

Mody, Cyrus

Journal Information:
Technology and Culture
Vol. 47, Num. 1


Cyrus Modys history of scanning tunneling microscopes (STM), an essential tool used in many nanotechnology applications, distinguishes the experimental university designs from narrow niche corporate applications: &early academic STMers trained students primarily to build highly flexible microscopes, and only secondarily to use them. This led to a proliferation of microscope designs &.It also led students to test microscopes on readily available materials rather than on scientifically disciplined specimens: leaves of houseplants, polaroids, bone from rib-eye steaks, ice, and the electrochemistry of Coke versus Pepsi, to name a few. This whimsicality was accompanied by bricolage in instrument-building. The Baldeschwieler group made STM probes from pencil leads, for instance, while the Hansma group made AFM tips from hand-crushed, pawn-shop diamonds glued to tinfoil cantilevers with brushes made from their own eyebrow hairs. (Mody, 2006, 66) The images produced by these varied instruments, Mody says, were hard to understand and hard to make credible to the corporate scientific community. Thus, universities borrowed STM experts from industry and from each other to forward the process of making microscopes and making their imagery meaningful. Mody emphasizes the personal and professional links that undergird knowledge, access to instrumentation, and scientific practice. These he calls instrumental communities, and the currently growing nanotechnology programs and research follows the dispersion of these instrumental communities.