First and Last Things: The Signatures of Visualization-Artists

history and philosophy of technology

Nanotechnology began for real when Don Eigler and Erhard Schweizer used 35 xenon-atoms to spell the name of their sponsor “IBM.” The resulting image has since been called “The Beginning” and, indeed, physical processes at the molecular level have since been used countless times to write the names of laboratories and sponsors and sometimes logos (including, of course, the White House and the American Flag). Indeed, when we conquer new territory, we tend to mark our presence and produce a souvenir of it by carving our name. But the first things we do may express our final purposes and thus already anticipate the last things we do. By signing their names as artists do, nanoscale researchers have claimed not only specific accomplishments but also their proximity to the arts – they are embarking on an explicitly creative project, namely to shape the world atom by atom in their own image.