As a graduate student in chemistry, I have focused my scientific work on the study of different types of nanomaterials and their peculiar properties. It is just crazy to think that at a certain length scale—the nanoscale—a different set of physical laws (quantum mechanics) kicks in and matter starts behaving in spooky and unfamiliar ways. The study and exploration of nanomaterials feels like you have been placed in a playground with bizarre tools that allow you to manipulate matter to create beautiful materials, all this while doing revolutionary science.
Luckily for me, this type of research comes with artsy perks because of the flexible morphologies and architectures that can be achieved with these nanomaterials. Thus, I am always on the lookout for visually pleasing structures within the materials I synthesize, which I have often encountered by accident. For instance, this image features oriented zinc oxide nanowires grown on a conductive substrate as a platform material for artificial photosynthesis. Interestingly, these intriguing flower-like nanowire clusters are found when the seeds that start the growth of these wires aggregate, something I did not anticipate, it was a wonderful surprise!
This example illustrates one of the intricate links between art and science. Regularly, you get the opportunity to work with inherently beautiful materials such as nanowires, and this allows you to demonstrate your technical skills to exploit the visual attributes of the material. However, when you come across an unexpected yet alluring fluke, your brain just goes in all sorts of imagination and creativity trips. For example, the first time I saw this image under a scanning electron microscope, I pictured the nanowire cluster as the sun bending the fabrics of space. I was at Concordia University doing solar energy conversion research in the Majewski Lab at the time, so this imagination trip was somewhat justified (others not so much). In fact, the prototype name for the piece was “Solar Nanoburst”, but I ended up settling for “Devoid of Darkness” to capture the other artistic realm of my research, which is the omnipresence of heavy metal music during the syntheses of my materials.
Art has been an important part of my life since a very young age. I enjoyed classes such as pottery, arts and crafts, music, and drama throughout middle and high school. These classes were quite rewarding because I felt like I was tapping into a non-rational region of my brain by stimulating my imagination and creativity. I remember having an exceptional arts professor (Chino Mestizo) who convinced me that art should always be a part of my life, no matter what I ended up doing after high school. He also sparked my interest in pencil drawing, which I still practice in my spare time. Therefore, I am grateful that my current job allows me to explicitly merge art and science on a regular basis.
The nanowires featured in the image were engineered for solar energy conversion purposes driven by my devotion to tackle climate change issues. To synthesize this material, zinc oxide nanoparticles (seeds) are fabricated first. These seeds are casted onto a conductive substrate and are then placed in a growing media for the nanowires to form. Interestingly, the nanowires have a preferred orientation in their growth that explains their hexagonal morphology. The orientation of the nanowires is observed through scanning electron microscopy. These nanowires are further functionalized with carbon-based nanoparticles (not seen in the image) to harvest energy from the sun and drive organic transformations. I edited this image using linear and radial false coloring gradients. The false coloring helps to accentuate the orientation and morphology of the nanowires. It was an enjoyable piece to work on for both the science and artistic attributes.
I think I speak for all the ChemiSTEAM participants and artsy scientists when I say that we truly appreciate the opportunity that the Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC) gives us to express our artistic side, particularly, the organizers Louise Dawe, Brian Wagner and Vance Williams as well as Claire Duncan from CIC. It is great to have a space where we can showcase our artwork with the scientific community since artistic expressions are somewhat limited when designing the graphics for the table of contents in articles. I hope this trend spreads to other chemistry and scientific communities in years to come.