figure 5

Learning as I Photograph

To create an image of nanotubes for our book, No Small Matter, I first printed a black hexagonal pattern, representing a standard graphite lattice, on an 8×10 piece of transparent acetate. I realized I had to make a choice regarding the configuration for the lattice. (1,2)

The educational website for The University of Wisconsin-Madison Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (UW MRSEC) Interdisciplinary Education Group informed me that there were indeed various possible configurations for carbon nanotubes, and that the ultimate configuration was significant in determining the electrical properties of the structure.

I decided on the “zigzag” configuration, pattern 2, purely for aesthetic reasons and began to roll the acetate to make a tube. I secured the edges of the acetate with a couple of pieces of tape and placed the tube on my flatbed scanner. (3)

The result was not terribly compelling. I then “inverted” the nanotube in Adobe Photoshop. (4)

Going further, I combined a few replications of the image to make multiple layers with varying degrees of transparency. (5)

Then, for what became the final composite, I adjusted the image using various filters and additional inversions. (6)

The act of researching and creating this image taught me about nanotube science. Whoever you are—a photographer manipulating a scientific image in today’s virtual darkroom, a physicist sketching on a blackboard, a student reaching for a visual metaphor or graphing a function—understanding often comes through the act of representation.