Nanophysical

In its outreach projects IMEC aims to show its scientific research through an educational, artistic or design perspective. In January 2010 we created a colorful 65m x 2.5m wall piece for IMEC, a visual metaphor of common principles in nanotechnology, depicting atoms, molecules, nerve cells, tissues, biochips, and so on.
 


The artwork is constructed from a library of visual elements. Each element is a detailed vector drawing that can stand on its own. These are then combined in different (algorithmic) compositions. The components in the library are inspired by the following concepts:

  • Chemistry & physics: atoms, molecules and fullerenes.
  • Biology: cells, single-celled organisms and viruses. 
  • Bio-electronics: chips, biochips, MEMS-technology (micro-electromechanical systems), nano-robotics and tissue self-assembly.  

A role (or behavior) is then assigned to the individual elements according to their location in the composition. The composition is based on an invisible grid circuit. The entire artwork acts as an imaginary biochip, powered by solar energy emitted from the window in the room. The window is the origin point of a fluid wave of components that ripples throughout the hallway along the walls. Components can be seen to interact with each other in interesting ways. They change state and ordering as the wave progresses. The imaginary goal of the wave is to support one big cell, the receptor or brain of the biochip. From the left it is fed with energy to keep it alive. From the right it is fed with the genetic instructions that generate it. 

Panels

SOLAR PLANT. A solar cell is a device used to convert the energy of sunlight into electricity. The blue elements in this panel are inspired by solar cells, mingled with the idea of parasitic symbiosis (the green elements) to achieve an aesthetically pleasing result. The combination also adds a plantlike quality to the composition, which is a play on its title.
 

NEURON. In nerve cells, the soma is the bulbous end of a neuron that receives chemical stimulation from the neuron’s branched projections, called dendrites. This panel shows an artistic interpretation of a neuron passing on information.
 

KINETIC STRING. A stream carries particles (or, if we may, units of information) off to form a cell. It is inspired by principles of fluidity and kinetic energy. The increase in pressure in the stream is visualized by a change in color.
 

EXOCYTOSIS. Elements from the stream are captured and organized into a cell. Exocytosis is a cellular process by which cells excrete waste products or chemical transmitters. This is depicted here with a force-based algorithm that repulses (or explodes) the elements. As the elements burst outwards, their capsule dissipates, leaving the content inside to form tissue.
 

SELF-ASSEMBLY. The tissue is modeled by using a force-based algorithm in which the connections between the elements are springs that pull at neighboring elements (Hooke’s Law). This tissue basically functions as food for our master cell further on.
 

NUCLEID. The cocoon-like elements growing from the top draw inspiration from receptor cells and the brain. The structure’s fictional name is reminiscent of “nucleus”, but with a slight astronomical touch. This structure is the final goal of all the interactions in the artwork.
 

DNA. DNA contains the genetic instructions for building and maintaining an organism. The green strands represent DNA molecules passing information extracted from the biochip to the master cell.
 

TRANSMITTER. In biotechnology, a biochip is a miniaturized laboratory with the ability to perform biochemical reactions. This is represented here by a chip-like wireframe that catches the signal emitted from the synapses further on.
 

SYNAPSES. In the nervous system synapses permit a neuron to pass signals to other cells. By analogy the elements in this panel are designed to interconnect in a network and reinforce each other’s signal (or energy, represented by incremental size). 
 

Credits

AUTHOR ROLE AFFILIATION
Ludivine Lechat * artist
Tom De Smedt programming EMRG
Imke Debecker project coordinator Imec
Jo De Wachter project coordinator Imec

References

Tom De Smedt (2013). Modeling Creativity: Case Studies in Python. University Press Antwerp. ISBN 978-90-5718-260-0.
Tom De Smedt, Ludivine Lechat & Walter Daelemans (2012). Generative art inspired by nature, in NodeBox. In Di Chio, Cecilia (ed.) Applications of Evolutionary Computation, Part II, LNCS 6625: 264–272. Berlin: Springer.