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Nanobamas – symbolic solutions to tough problems?

Microscopic faces of Barack Obama made with nanotechnology.

Microscopic faces of Barack Obama made with nanotechnology.

Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into the microscopic faces of Barack Obama (shown above) that University of Michigan professor John Hart has created using carbon nanotubes, optical and scanning electron microscope. One has to wonder, however, if Hart’s creations are meant to convey a symbolic message – like the potential that both nanotechnology and the new president offer for finding solutions to some of today’s toughest economic, environmental, health and energy-related problems. While the symbolism question goes unanswered, Hart is quick to tell the world how he created the microscopic faces of Obama. In fact, he’s created a “how-to” website that provides a step-by-step guide for producing the images shown above and other images as well. Hart explains that each face is comprised of about 150 million carbon nanotubes – approximately the number of Americans who voted on Nov. 4th, he says. (We told you symbolism was at play!)

Hart grows the CNTs by a high-temperature chemical reaction, using patterns of nanoscale metal catalyst particles arranged in the shapes of faces, flags, text, etc.  He describes the millions of parallel nanotubes comprising each image as a “forest of trees” standing vertically on their substrates. If each nanotube was a real tree measuring one foot in diameter, Hart says, it would be growing at over 500 miles per hour – and, yet, each nanobama face is only about 0.5 millimeters wide or approximately “ten times as wide as a human hair.” Check it out – Hart’s site does a great job of creating public awareness and a better understanding of nanotechnology. Further, the site’s message comes across loud and clear. Public and private support of research and education programs are absolutely necessary, he says, to enable new technologies – such as nanotechnology – to continue making “breakthroughs in energy, medicine, communications and other vital areas.”