A number of my abstracted science paintings and drawings feature complex mechanisms and devices, varies surface texture regions and patterns of interconnecting and overlapping lines. In many ways these pieces resemble microchips, but they are also more complex and varied – they differ from iconic circuit board or microchip imagery.
A large part of this difference is due to the specific inspirations for these works. I am not an Electrical Engineer, nor am I a Computer Scientist. My technical background is in Materials Science and Condensed Matter Physics. My longstanding interests in “High Technology” (as defined and co-opted by the Electronic Device community) run more towards Cognitive Science and AI (areas where I do NOT claim significant technical depth, just a fan).
The inspirations for many of my “chip” and “Machinery” pieces are somewhat metaphoric. They make oblique reference to an idea or narrative regarding the machinery of creation. When I created these, in my mind were ideas about complexity and how systems can evolve unpredictably. It’s amazing how few highly coupled parameters in the description of a process can make prediction difficult.
I spent several years working in a multinational Chemicals and Materials company, in between my BS and my PhD. I was in Corporate Research at Akzo (now Akzo-Nobel) when Theoretical Chemistry and Molecular Simulations were just starting to gain traction outside Academia. One of the things that fascinated me about Molecular Simulations (and later about simulation in general), was the way that even fairly simple seeming simulations could blow up. With the wrong choice of initial conditions or a few mis-set interaction parameters, even a smallish molecule could evolve to an unstable and unrealistic mess in silico.
These ideas were already kicking around in the back of my head during my PhD and early independent research career. At that time there were also a number of research trends developing that also inform many of these “chip” paintings. Perhaps the most important trend in the research world to impact and influence me was the “Lab on a Chip” push. The National Science Foundation and several other Federal Science Research funding bodies were actively soliciting research approaches to putting fairly complex laboratory analyses onto silicon chips. It was sort of a first grope at creating portable standards for biosensors, chemosensors, chemical analytic tools and other technologies. Locating a lot of technology on silicon chips would miniaturize the technologies and operations, while also creating a sort of universal platform for engineers working on the front end to integrate into lab equipment and into more portable scientific instruments.
Many of these chip based lab-thingies involved different functional zones on the silicon chip. There could be a chemical pattern written in one area to set up a microfluidic molecule sorter, a zone where molecular interactions were detected via fluorescence and perhaps signal transduction from light to an electric pulse. There could be a micromechanical element connected to a sensor or a piezoelectric element and so on and so on.
Getting all of these ideas and functions into chip-ready format really stretched the technical capabilities – the engineering and application side – of a wide variety of Scientific disciplines. Integrating them pushed the Engineering disciplines further into miniaturization than they’d yet ventured. When these disparate laboratory functions and ideas were located on the solid surface of a chip, Materials Science become a key Central integrating set of principles.
Now, many years into this push, there are entire journals dedicated to Lab on a Chip ideas, and chip based analytical and other capabilities are no longer Science Fiction. I envision and acknowledge these advances with geometric paintings and drawings that are zoned and integrated like those chips, with allusions to circuitry, mechanical elements and signaling.
To see the “chip” paintings featured in my November 2017 newsletter, click here. They’re the same ones used as illustrations above, and are 50% off with promo code “Chippyfeast” through December 4