1.21 Gigawatts: Sci-Tube – A Bit of Microscopic Magic

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-Sarah Keartes

“We can look up at the sky and see the stars, and nebulas, and other galaxies with a telescope and be excited by the strange interesting patterns that the universe forms, but we can also look the other direction—down towards the small and see new, and strange, and exciting patterns that are formed by these pieces of the universe that we’re all made out of.”Christopher Lutz, IBM Research

#1 A Microscopic Music Video


Art, music, and science—not a triad of words you see together often, but this is exactly the type of discipline mash-up that The Creators Project searches for.

“We seek to inspire new and emerging artists by showcasing the infinite possibilities presented by the advancement of modern technology,” they said.

“Immunity,” one of their most recent projects, brings these words to life in an epic three-way collaboration. The music video, which is soundtracked by UK musician Jon Hopkins’ new album, is made completely of images produced by artist Linden Gledhill.

A trained biochemist, Gledhill is now a photographer who specializes in creating abstract images by photographing the microscopic world.

The 10,000 images needed for the Hopkins collaboration were shot using a 5D Mark II fitted onto an Olympus BH-2 research microscope between 200 and 1,000 times magnification. Each track of the video features a different chemical reaction, which thanks to art director Craig Ward, seamlessly fits the music.

“Jon’s music is organic and flowing, yet with a hard and rhythmic electronic edge,” Ward said. “The idea of delving down to explore chemical interactions under a microscope felt like the perfect solve to create the album imagery and our video for The Creators Project features much of the same—various immiscible liquids, dyes and chemicals interacting underneath the watchful eye of my collaborator on the project.”

The result is a captivating array of color, music, and science that you don’t want to miss.

#2 “A Boy and His Atom”: The World’s Smallest Movie


It might not look like much at first, but this stop-motion animation is far from something you’ve seen before. It was made by researchers at IBM and stars the world’s tiniest actors: individual atoms. The movie, verified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s smallest, can only be seen when magnified 100 million times.

The ability to manipulate individual atoms is crucial for the IBM team, who specialize in atomic memory advancement. Atomic Memory, sometimes called “atomic storage,” is a nanotechnology approach to computer data storage that works with bits and atoms on the individual level.

The atoms are moved using a variation on how the atoms are seen in the first place, IBM research scientist Christopher Lutz said.

Because atoms are so small, they cannot be seen using a light microscope. A Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM), a type of electron microscope that shows three-dimensional images of a sample, was used to capture the frames for the animation. By using the STM, researchers are able to move single atoms across a tiny piece of copper.

“We have a surface that we put an atom on so [that] it holds still, and then we take a metal needle close to the atom and in essence, sense it’s presence by measuring an electric current that flows. In order to move atoms, we bump into them under control,” Lutz said.

“By moving the tip close we start to form a chemical bond between the tip and the atom such that the atom likes to follow the tip around on the surface. That process repeated over and over is how we have created most of these structures.”

Live long and prosper little atom man—IBM hasn’t stopped there.  In the wake of their theatrical debut, the team has created some serious Trekkie fan art using the same techniques and equipment as for the world’s smallest movie. Their intergalactic masterpieces include images of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the Star Trek Logo, and the Vulcan Salute (which they call the “live long and prosper sign”…come on people).

“Even nanophysicists need to have a little fun,” they said.

For Nobel Swiss Physicist Heinrich Rohrer, the pairing made perfect sense.

“[Star Trek’s] claim to fame is that they’re dealing with the final frontier, with space. What we’re doing is dealing with the final frontier of engineering. The finest thing you’ll ever deal with in engineering is atoms. There’s nothing beyond that point,” he told Wired in an interview.

“The best thing that we can create is an interest in the general public, in kids, for science,” he said.

Rohrer, who co invented the STM, died May 16, 2013—just days after the interview. He is remembered not only by his family, but through research like this which would not be possible if not for his work.

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