Nano Art: Reloaded - Where Art And Science Collide
April 3, 2012

Art And Science Collide In Nano Art: Reloaded Project

Lee Rannals for

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Nanotechnology is a science that is being used by most of the Western culture on a daily basis, but the majority of people using do not even know it.

People are unaware of the science that goes into making a device like a touchscreen smartphone that fits into a pocket, but Sameer Walavalkar is looking to change that.

Nano Art: Reloaded is a project Walavalkar has created to combine both science and art, to bring nanoscale artwork to the consumer's hand.

In the project, Sameer, a physicist at Caltech, is using a scanning electron microscope to take pictures of artwork he has carved into silicon using a Focused Ion Beam.

He can carve any image, or text message, a person wants into the silicon, then take a photo of the image next to a grain of salt, an eyelash or a grain of sand.

The project is a way to bring the reality of just how small nanotechnology is, into the consumer's hands.

To get a picture of the size of the artwork involved in Nano Art: Reloaded, Walavalkar said he could fit about 100 pieces of artwork scaled at 50 microns by 50 microns onto a grain of salt.  He even said he could fit about 5,000 of these etchings onto the head of a pin.

"In principle just etching a picture isn´t difficult--but etching a picture well and being able to etch it next to an insulating structure like salt or a hair is a more involved task because the salt/hair tends to get charged up with gallium ions and repel the beam," Walavalkar, who created Nano Art: Reloaded, told RedOrbit in an interview.

Sameer etches the artwork similar to a way a MakerBot or C&C milling machine works.  These machines are used to create larger-scaled objects, but the Focused Ion Beam is able to create objects at the nanoscale.

"I can use the beam of gallium ions to carve pictures into a silicon chip (like the C&C machine) or I can fill the chamber with certain types of gas and use the gallium beam to deposit tungsten or glass or platinum, and build a structure from the bottom up (like the MakerBot)," he told RedOrbit.

Although this technology seems futuristic, it is something that is used in every computer chip or electronic device, including some of the latest televisions.  But these are just a few examples of nanotechnology.

"Also I think that the small size of these new nanostructures has lent to their application in biology and medicine," he said. "I really think that there are some cool biomedical applications like DNA sequencing or protein synthesis or homeostasis monitoring that I would love to explore."

Nano Art: Reloaded gives a unique spin on how art and science can come together, but it also details the reality of what scientists like Sameer get to work with every day.

"I really think that part of my duty as an engineer or scientist is to get other people interested in science and engineering, and I hope my current project introduces people to the nanoworld."

He told RedOrbit that one of the things that drew his interest in nanotechnology is how objects and materials behave differently when they are so small.

Silicon is a brittle ceramic, like a dinner plate, Sameer said, but tiny silicon nanopilars can bend and stretch like rubber bands when they are a few nanometers wide.

"I was drawn to nanotechnology because by shrinking structures to this size scale you can fundamentally alter the electronic, optical, and mechanical properties of a material and use them in ways that were previously thought impossible," Sameer told RedOrbit.

Advances in this technology could have implications on what the future may hold for common devices like smartphones and televisions, and Nano Art: Reloaded is giving people a chance to see their own pictures at a scale the naked eye cannot even see.

For $50, someone could have their own personal copy of the Mona Lisa on a scale that is smaller than the eyelash of Leonardo Divinci, the artist of the masterpiece.

With that price, Sameer will take a picture of the etching next to a grain of salt, eyelash or grain of sand using the scanning electron microscope, then blow it up to an 11x14 glossy print for the purchaser.

If someone wants a more deluxe look, their Nano Art: Reloaded etching on silicon can be framed, along with the 11x14 image.

Sameer said he could even etch an image into sapphire, but this price would be considerably more because sapphire is much harder than silicon and is harder to etch into.

"This project is a way for me to do something fun and make something interesting that people can directly enjoy and maybe get people to understand the scale of my research and the scale of the all the  chips in their electronic devices," he told RedOrbit.

Those who would like to support his project can pledge anything from $1 to $5,000, getting anything in return from images of Nano Art, to visiting Sameer and getting a hands-on tour of the clean room fabrication facilities he works in.

Sameer is launching Nano Art: Reloaded on April 2, and for those who want their own piece of nano-scale artwork can visit: