Interview with Suresh Donthu, Joel Henzie, and Cris Orfescu: Science as Art

What do Suresh Donthu and Joel Henzie, researchers at Northwestern University in Evanston, and Cris Orfescu, curator of the First International NanoArt Festival in Finland, have in common? They have a fascination with “science as art” and “art as science” in the world of nanotechnology – the science of dealing with matter at the molecular level, unseen by the human eye.

Suresh Donthu – Searching for Sensory Nanowires

Research

Develop techniques to make materials that are very small and measure their properties, and to understand how their properties change.

Award

One of four first-place winners for the Materials Research Society's Science as Art Competition.

Method

Grow tin oxide nanowires. Observe changes that take place in different samples. Use a scanning electron microscope (SEM) with an electron beam to capture the image of nanowires.

Scientific Implications

Improved carbon monoxide gas sensors.

Suresh Donthu NanoGrass
An Early Morning Stroll into Woods: SEM Image of Tin Oxide Nanowires
Courtesy of Suresh Donthu

ArtStyle: How did you create your image?

Suresh Donthu: When I first started the experiment, I wasn't expecting the nanowires to grow on the sample. I wanted to see where the experiment failed, so I put it under the microscope. While tilting the sample at various angles, I saw the nanowires standing up. The first image that came to mind was that it looked like trees with a hazy background. Imagine you're taking a walk in the morning, and there is a heavy mist on the trees and on the grass. From a lower angle, you can see the dispersion of the sunlight from the water droplets on the grass. The first time I saw this image, that's what came into my mind. The idea of adding a “lens-flare” effect with Photoshop to simulate the sun occurred to me much later.

ArtStyle: What's the purpose of your research?

Suresh Donthu: My research involves developing techniques to make materials that are very small and measure their properties, and to understand how the properties change. Many times the properties are enhanced but other times the properties might degrade when you shrink a material.

ArtStyle: What are the applications for your research?

Suresh Donthu: I want to determine if these nanowires, used in a gas sensor, would be better than the current sensors used in our homes. The current house-hold carbon monoxide sensors are not very efficient. They take about one or two hours to detect gas and also consume a lot of power because they need to operate at high temperatures. There is a possibility that these nanowires could be more efficient in terms of sensing gas and consuming less power because they can operate at lower temperatures.

Joel Henzie – Seeing the Light with Nanopyramids

Research

Primarily interested in the fundamentals of how light interacts with nanostructures.

Award

One of four first-place winners for the Materials Research Society's Science as Art Competition.

Method

Use gold to create nanopyramids. Use a scanning electron microscope (SEM) with an electron beam to capture the images.

Scientific Implications

Using nanopyramids in biomedical and optical applications.

Joel Henzie Gold Pyramids
Gold Nanopyramids on Silicon Pedestals
Courtesy Joel Henzie

ArtStyle: How did you create your image?

Joel Henzie: We create nanopyramids using a process similar to photography. We expose an image of 10 billion micro pyramids in light-sensitive material, and remove material that isn't part of the image. Then we transfer the image on to a silicon crystal and make tiny molds, and then deposit gold on these molds to form the nanopyramids.

As we progressively dissolve the silicon mold, pedestals are formed. When the process is complete, the pedestals will be completely dissolved, and the gold nanopyramids will be able to stand on their own. The image was taken part way through dissolving the pedestals. I added a gold tone in Photoshop to enhance the image because everything is in grey scale output of the scanning electron microscope.

ArtStyle: What's the purpose of your research?

Joel Henzie: I'm primarily interested in the fundamentals of how light interacts with these nanostructures. We are using these structures to focus light into smaller volumes than it would normally go. This is necessary if you want to use light to study very small things, such as molecules. The pyramids concentrate light at their tips, and if a fluorescent molecule happens to zip by the tip, the molecule will light up.

ArtStyle
: What are the applications for your research?

Joel Henzie: In terms of applications, these pyramids should act as good sensors. Researchers are trying to make sensors that can detect small amounts of molecules. This could be useful in biomedical applications such as diseases where there are faint warning signs, for example, the early onset of Alzheimer's.

The nanopyramids can also be applied to optics. There are a lot of new ideas about the way we can think about optics and manipulating light, and some interesting exceptions to the fundamental rules have been found. Recently, a researcher came up with the idea of a real cloaking device that can be based on similar metallic materials. Other researchers are interested in using large-scale structures as future optical computers.

Next Post: Interview with Cris Orfescu

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