I recently received a series of questions in the comments section of this blog on a topic close to my heart, visualizing nanotechnology. It’s a topic that can run the gamut from state diagrams to images straight from the researchers’ monitor to whimsical illustrations.
Via an EU [European Union] Project (called SeeingNano https://www.zsi.at/de/object/project/3396) we are facing following 5 questions and searching for answers I came across your site. We are trying to find answers to:
1) How relevant are NT visualisations for the general public (pictures, videos, animations, aso..)?
I think they are very relevant. I just finished teaching a course on Nanotechnology for a local university and the various illustrations, data visualizations, videos, colourized images, and real-time images (i.e. the gray on gray images that scientists work with) were valuable in communicating about the invisible.
2) What are success factors and barriers for good NT visualisations? What works, what does not work in terms of visualization material?
That would be difficult for me to assess. I used anything I could get access to and just kept exposing the students to the materials. But there was one aspect that I can say was problematic. Much of the introductory material is aimed at children and I had adult students. As well, many of the students had not been in a science classroom for many years and so their science was partly remembered and partly out of date.
3) Which NT content needs to be visualised? What is still needed?
I’d like better carbon nanotubes. For example, I haven’t come across any illustration of single-walled vs. multi-walled carbon nanotubes. I believe everything I’ve seen is single-walled. I’d also like to see representations of nanoparticles in a material. E.g., carbon nanotubes in a Damascus steel blade or in a tennis racket. I’d also like to see images of cellulose nanocrystals, cellulose nanofibrils, and other nanoscale cellulose materials.
I think what I’m saying is that I’d like more specificity and more accuracy. E.g. it’s not just a carbon nanotube, here’s what a single-walled carbon nanotube looks like and here’s what a multi-walled carbon nanotube looks like.
4) Do you think appropriate visualisation material would help in raising awareness and opinion building with specific target groups? If so, how shall this material be designed?
I don’t think I can answer this question since my primary interest raising awareness and sharing the current state of knowledge about materials and science at the nanoscale.
5) What NT materials and/or media are still missing or need to be further addressed?
I think I’ve touched on this already. It would be helpful to have introductory materials for adults.
I do like the state diagrams (I think that’s what they’re called) which take me through a process. E.g.
I also have this example, which is almost too childish, manages to work for adults who are nonexperts,
*ETA Feb. 27, 2015 (after sending my email response ): I should contextualize this image a bit better than I did originally. It was used as an illustration in a rather serious news release about a nanotoxicity study from Rice University. Given that I’ve written many pieces and seen much material on toxicity I found the illustration helped refresh my view of the topic. The illustration does have one shortcoming, it makes it look like carbon nanotubes were the only nanomaterial being tested, which was not the case. Here’s the Feb. 6, 2015 post where I highlighted the Rice University nanotoxicity study news release and the illustration.)*
One proviso, there isn’t always enough explanation of the images. Personally, I found the state diagram easy to follow but I’m not sure how someone not familiar with the NP abbreviation would find it.
Also, while the focus for your project is visualization, I’d like to see more materials that access sensory modes such as touch and sound. I’m aware there are some materials which address these sensory modes but I’d like to see them made more accessible. For example, there’s an exhibit ‘Nanooze’ in Disney’s Florida property which allows people to ‘touch’ molecules and atoms but that’s limited to people who are on site.
All in all, I think nanotechnology visualizations have been surprisingly good right from the start. In particular, I’d like to cite European and American materials. Sadly, the Canadian scene is not so well populated and I suspect my language skills have limited my access to any materials there might be from the Spanish-language, Mandarin-language, Korean-language, Japanese-language, etc. communities.
Should you be interested in answering any of the questions yourself, please add your answers in the comments and I will pass them on to the Seeing Nano team.
The Seeing Nano project is being led by Austria’s Centre for Social Innovation (Zentrum für Soziale Innovation). The project’s webpage is here (it is a mixed language page: German/English).