Christian Orfescu is a material scientist who runs the analytical laboratory at Caleb Technology in Torrance, California. By day he researches nanotechnology looking for ways to create more efficient lithium batteries, yet in his time off the job he uses art to inform people about the new technologies of the Twenty-First Century. The inspiration for Cris Orfescu’s art comes from the molecular landscapes, measured on the nanometer scale, of various materials. He is so inspired by these images that he calls his work “nanoart” and in 2006 he started organizing competitions for artists with similar ideas.
These nanoart artists are confronted with quite a hurdle when trying to illustrate the realm of nanotechnology (defined as materials that have dimensions of one hundred nanometers or less). Because nanomaterials can be more than one hundred thousandth of the size of the head of a pin, these materials are impossible to photograph. The image below exemplifies the size of the smaller than microscopic nanomaterials, which the artists are trying to recreate. To get any sort of image of these tiny substances one must use scanning electron microscopes. Even with this technology the images can only be portrayed in the color gray. While some see this as a limitation, Cris Orfescu believes this allows the nanoart artists to let their creativity shape how we see science. Mr. Orfescu admits that his interpretations of nanotechnology are not works of science but he believes they can do a better job at attracting attention to the subject: “With more than 70 percent of the people in the U.S. using products incorporating nanotechnology, I want people to know about it and I hope my art stirs their curiosity to find out more.”
For an example of nanoart see the image below. In this work called “Black Eye NanoOctopus” the artist created a nanosculpture by hydrolyzing a tiny drop of a titanium organometallic compound and coating the structure with gold so that it could be best visualized with a scanning electron microscope. The gray colored electron scan was then painted and digitally manipulated before the final image was put on canvas.
Like Cris Orfescu most nanoartists have a strong passion for the field of nanotechnology itself, but they simply use “the other culture” of art to get through to the public. As put by another nanoart artist, Darcy Lewis, “Nanotechnology will dramatically reshape our lives, with amazing medical and economic benefits, however, we must strive to focus on its unimaginable positive benefits, and curtail the weapons and negative applications it can also be used for.” It’s clear that the development of the new science of nanotechnology will undoubtedly lead to great new technologies—nanoarts are simply trying to spread this message with an innovative mix of science and vision.
By: Sarah Van Cleve