Science photography on a nano scale

Studio 360

This story was originally reported by PRI’s Studio 360. For more, listen to the audio above.

Photographer Felice Frankel’s work lives between the worlds of art and science. For the past 20 years Frankel has photographed objects that only the most powerful microscopes can see. “I’m a photographer of science, but I also help researchers think about how to depict data and concepts,” Frankel told PRI’s Studio 360. “And I have a blast.”

Frankel’s new book, No Small Matter, is a joint project with Harvard chemist George Whitesides depicting the nano scale. Some of the bits of matter in the book are 1/100,000th the width of a baby’s eyelash. Frankel says, “It is very, very difficult — frankly impossible — to portray what is going on scientifically at that very, very small scale.”

Many of the images in the book are metaphorical, showing people what would be impossible to see. Through the photography, Frankel says that Whitesides “was able to connect with the phenomona that was going on at the nanoscale.” The idea, according to Frankel was “to get someone to look at it and say, ‘what in the world am I looking at?’ to read it and then say, ‘oh Yeah, I get it now.'”

Some of the objects depicted in the photography are literally impossible to visualize. For example, when showing the Atomic Force Micography tip, Frankle points out, “the dimensions are smaller than the wavelength of light.” In that case, Frankle is forced to think in a different way. She describes her process:

You really can’t see atoms. So what you do is you sense the presence of the atom, and then you visualize it with a computer. You know, you’re seeing it but you’re not seeing it in a way. You’re feeling it.

You can watch a slideshow of Frankle’s photography below:

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