Buy from Amazon.com | Image Permalink | See Frankel and Whitesides discuss the nanoworld at theáNew York Academy of Sciences ╗

Credit: Felice Frankel | Buy from Amazon.com | Image Permalink | See Frankel and Whitesides discuss the nanoworld at theáNew York Academy of Sciences ╗

Credit: Felice Frankel | Buy from Amazon.com | Image Permalink | See Frankel and Whitesides discuss the nanoworld at theáNew York Academy of Sciences ╗

Credit: Felice Frankel | Buy from Amazon.com | Image Permalink | See Frankel and Whitesides discuss the nanoworld at theáNew York Academy of Sciences ╗

Credit: J.W.M. Bush | Buy from Amazon.com | Image Permalink | See Frankel and Whitesides discuss the nanoworld at theáNew York Academy of Sciences ╗

Credit: Felice Frankel | Buy from Amazon.com | Image Permalink | See Frankel and Whitesides discuss the nanoworld at theáNew York Academy of Sciences ╗

Credit: Felice Frankel | Buy from Amazon.com | Image Permalink | See Frankel and Whitesides discuss the nanoworld at theáNew York Academy of Sciences ╗

Credit: Felice Frankel | Buy from Amazon.com | Image Permalink | See Frankel and Whitesides discuss the nanoworld at theáNew York Academy of Sciences ╗

Credit: Felice Frankel | Buy from Amazon.com | Image Permalink | See Frankel and Whitesides discuss the nanoworld at theáNew York Academy of Sciences ╗

Credit: Felice Frankel | Buy from Amazon.com | Image Permalink | See Frankel and Whitesides discuss the nanoworld at theáNew York Academy of Sciences ╗

Feeling is Seeing

Instruments that see objects smaller than the wavelengths of visible light have been developed to explore the nanoscale. Electron microscopes, which illuminate specimens with beams of electrons instead of photons, and atomic force microscopes (AFM), which feel out the geography of a molecule like a finger running over a carved surface, are foremost in this toolkit. Both require the interpretation of a computer to produce an image recognizable to us.

To feel the gradations and valleys of atoms, the “finger” of the atomic force microscope must be very delicate indeed. The inverted mountain in this image is in fact the silicon probe of an AFM, as photographed by an electron microscope. The tip is only a few atoms thick.

Single Molecules

Running the AFM over molecules produces a topographic map, outlining the meanders and curls of a string of atoms. Here, large polymers splayed on a flat surface show some three-dimensional character: One region of each molecule has a tendency to coil up, manifesting itself on the map as a peak. Molecules like these are more than 100 times smaller than what the human eye can see at any magnification. The shortest wavelength of visible light is 400 nanometers.

The Cell in Silhouette

This cell has been pressed into a square shape, while its ghostly nucleus remains round. Whitesides uses the square—an artifact produced by the scientist’s preparation—to illustrate the way specimens are arranged for experiments are often quite different from how they’re found in their usual environments. A petri dish is, after all, artificial, and the conclusions drawn about cells grown within it may be similarly skewed.

The Wet Fantastic

Two streams of water collide with remarkable results. At the top, under the influence of pressure and gravity, the streams squirt out into a flat sheet, while surface tension draws the fluid into strands and then globes as it falls. “We often associate complex behaviors—the spontaneous formation of intricate patterns, unexpected changes over time—with systems that are themselves complicated,” Whitesides writes. “Even the simplest systems have the potential to show behaviors that confound us.”

Quantum Dots and the Cell

Fluorescent proteins are often used to make cellular structures visible under the microscope. But while fluorophores bleach in microscopes’ lasers, quantum dots do not. These nanoscale dots emit colors based on their size: The smallest shine blue and the largest glow red, with other colors in between. Tailoring them to attach to specific parts of the cell yields a colorful, information-rich image like this one.

The Elegance of Simple Animals

The skeleton of a simple sea creature, a sponge called Venus’s Flower Basket, is home to two small shrimp, a male and a female. The sponge traps the shrimp in this silica cage, and the three live symbiotically, the shrimp helping the sponge eat and the sponge sheltering its small boarders. The miniscule structure of the cage is incredibly detailed, and its struts not only provide mechanical strength but also transmit light generated by phosphorescent, cohabitating bacteria along the length of the sponge.

Robots

This tiny fly, produced by Rob Wood’s lab at Harvard, is an example of the future of robotics as envisioned with nanotech. The reflexes built into such a construction bring to mind the origins of consciousness, muses Whitehead. “We—or better, the first primitive organisms—survived as collections of reflexes. Over not so many generations, reflexes, intelligence, and Darwinian selection produced Jane Austen and Sun Tzu. How, or if, reflexes aggregate and become intelligence is a subject about which we have many opinions, but understand almost nothing.”

In Sickness and in Health

This colony of Bacillus subtilis, a harmless model organism, is about 2 centimeters across and a millimeter thick. But even a colony of bacteria this small can be stunningly lethal, Whitesides points out. “Disease is more complicated than just a few toxic proteins produced by a bacterium; it’s a tango that hosts and pathogens dance together. Their toxins, our antibodies; their attachment factors, our cell-surface molecules.”

Solar Cell

The silicon photovoltaic cell is honeycombed with miniscule pits, which appear violet because of an anti-reflective coating. When light strikes these collecting pits, energy moves through the cell to the silver wire, which appears gold at this magnification, creating current that can drive just about everything from an electric kettle to a bus. “We love the idea of something from nothing,” Whitesides writes. “But there’s always a catch... solar electricity is a good idea, but not a good enough idea to save us from ourselves. Either we have to find more energy elsewhere, or use less.”

Show Captions

A Miniature Miscellany

By Veronique Greenwood / November 5, 2009

Most science photography collections draw from a single imaging technique, whether it’s molecular models or space shots. Rarely do electron microscopy and computer modeling share the same pages, and images are often accompanied by little more than perfunctory descriptions.

No Small Matter is an exception. The second collaboration between photographer Felice Frankel and biochemist and essayist George Whitesides, authors of On the Surface of Things, the book combines colorful imagery from multiple disciplines with thoughtful essays to capture the bizarre world below the level of the visible and to introduce readers to the strange principles driving science on the nanoscale.

See More SEEDMAGAZINE.COM Slideshows Hide this