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Test objects and other epistemic things: a history of a nanoscale object

  • CYRUS C.M. MODY (a1) and MICHAEL LYNCH (a2)


This paper follows the history of an object. The purpose of doing so is to come to terms with a distinctive kind of research object – which we are calling a ‘test object’ – as well as to chronicle a significant line of research and technology development associated with the broader nanoscience/nanotechnology movement. A test object is one of a family of epistemic things that makes up the material culture of laboratory science. Depending upon the case, it can have variable shadings of practical, mathematical and epistemic significance. Clear cases of test objects have highly regular and reproducible visible properties that can be used for testing instruments and training novices. The test object featured in this paper is the silicon (111) 7×7, a particular surface configuration (or, as it is often called, a ‘reconstruction’) of silicon atoms. Research on this object over a period of several decades has been closely bound up with the development of novel instruments for visualizing atomic structures. Despite having little direct commercial value, the Si(111) 7×7 also has been a focal object for the formation of a research community bridging industry and academia. It exhibits a complex structure that became a sustained focus of observation and modelling. Our study follows shifts in the epistemic status of the Si(111) 7×7, and uses it to re-examine familiar conceptions of representation and observation in the history, philosophy and social study of science.



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1 The rationale for calling nanoscience/nanotechnology (nano, for short) a ‘movement’ can be appreciated by reading manifestos by the more enthusiastic proponents who promote the channelling of research funding to encourage ‘convergence’ between diverse fields in engineering, biology and even cognitive science. See, for example, Mihail C. Roco, ‘The emergence and policy implications of converging new technologies’, in William Sims Bainbridge and Mihail C. Roco (eds.), Managing Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno Innovations, Dordrecht and New York: Springer, 2006, pp. 8–22; Joseph Kennedy, ‘Nanotechnology: the future is coming sooner than you think’, in Erik Fisher, Cynthia Selin and Jameson M. Wetmore (eds.), The Yearbook of Nanotechnology and Society, vol. 1: Presenting Futures, New York: Springer, 2008, pp. 1–21. These proponents insist that research at the nanoscale poses essentially distinct methodological requirements from investigations at higher levels of scale. Unlike ‘micro’ research, nano research does not simply transpose pre-existing ‘micro’ concepts and tools to a new level of scale; it contends with forces and relationships that have no counterpart in ‘macro’ physics, biology, chemistry or engineering, and develops specialized tools to contend with them. As some surface scientists have acknowledged in interviews with the authors, their identification with the nanoscience/technology movement is contingent. Some are enthusiastic about nano as an organizing principle for science or as a way to reinvigorate surface science; others are more ambivalent. Nano has acquired a well-deserved reputation for hype, and many of its proponents have disavowed the futuristic scenarios (of horror as well as hope) portrayed by K. Eric Drexler and Michael Crichton, but its future-orientation remains very much a part of its history. See Milburn, Colin, ‘Nanotechnology in the age of posthuman engineering: science fiction as science’, Configurations (2002), 10, pp. 261295; Andreas Lösch, ‘Anticipating the future of nanotechnology: visionary images as means of communication’, in Fisher, Selin and Wetmore, op. cit., pp. 123–142. The promotional idea that nano represents an epistemic and historical break with past research is echoed, perhaps inadvertently, by historians Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, who tentatively suggest that nano embodies the emergence of a novel twenty-first-century chapter in the history of objectivity. In their view, exploration with probe microscopes neither aims for nor achieves ‘representation’ of pre-existing atomic configurations; instead, it is ‘presentational’ in the sense that imaging with a probe is simultaneously a matter of ‘haptic’ manipulation of the arrangements and forces that are imaged. Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007, pp. 363–415. Although we do not subscribe to the idea that nano represents a clean break with pre-existing scientific methods, instruments and conceptions of objectivity, we believe that the implications for history of science, as well as for ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ social science research, are interesting to contemplate.

2 Binnig and Rohrer won the Nobel Prize just three years after publication of their 7×7 results. They shared the prize with Ernst Ruska, who won for his role in the invention of electron microscopy, some five and a half decades earlier.

3 For example, Steven A. Edwards, The Nanotech Pioneers: Where Are They Taking Us?, Weinheim: Wiley-VCH, 2006, p. 33: the STM ‘allowed the first “visualization” of individual atoms’. We will explain later why this description is inaccurate. Note the scare quotes around the word ‘visualization’. The question whether visualization with the STM and related instruments is a matter of ‘seeing’ is a vexed one, not only for philosophers of science but also in popular accounts.

4 Former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld's famous ‘known unknowns’ speech was delivered at NATO Headquarters, Brussels on 6 June 2002, and has since been collected in volumes of Rumsfeld's ‘found poetry’ and even set to music. For an illuminating treatment of a mathematical problem see MacKenzie, Donald, ‘Slaying the kraken: the sociohistory of a mathematical proof’, Social Studies of Science (1999) 29, pp. 760.

5 Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Toward a History of Epistemic Things: Synthesizing Proteins in the Test Tube, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997, pp. 30–31.

6 Rheinberger, op. cit. (5), p. 31.

7 Surface scientists certainly learned how to make silicon samples on which small patches of the 7×7 were present. However, until the advent of the scanning tunnelling microscope, it was believed that samples of the 7×7 were much more ordered than they probably were. One of the achievements of the STM was to show that clear low-energy electron diffraction (LEED) signals could be seen even on relatively disordered surfaces, giving the misimpression that the surface was more ‘well defined’ than it warranted.

8 Lorraine Daston (ed.), Biographies of Scientific Objects, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. For a history of a molecule see Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts, London: Sage, 1979; on the production of standards see Simon Schaffer, ‘Late Victorian metrology and its instrumentation: a manufactory of ohms’, in Robert Bud and Susan Cozzens (eds.), Invisible Connections: Instruments, Institutions and Science, Bellingham, WA: SPIE Optical Engineering Press, 1992, pp. 23–56; and M. Norton Wise, The Values of Precision, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997; on prototypes see John Law, Aircraft Stories: Decentering the Object in Technoscience, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002; on architecture see Yaneva, Albena, ‘Scaling up and down: extraction trials in architectural design’, Social Studies of Science (2005) 35, pp. 867894.

9 See, among others, Karen A. Rader, Making Mice, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995; Angela N.H. Creager, The Life of a Virus: Tobacco Mosaic Virus as an Experimental Model, 1930–1965, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002; Robert E. Kohler, Lords of the Fly: Drosophila Genetics and the Experimental Life, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994; and several of the essays in Adele E. Clarke and Joan H. Fujimura (eds.), The Right Tools for the Job: At Work in Twentieth-Century Life Sciences, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.

10 See G.L'E. Turner, ‘The microscope as a technical frontier in science’, in S. Bradbury and G.L'E Turner, Historical Aspects of Microscopy, Cambridge: Heffer, 1967, pp. 175–200; and Schickore, Jutta, ‘Cheese mites and other delicacies: the introduction of test objects into microscopy’, Endeavour (2003) 27, pp. 134138. Goring's test objects are discussed briefly in Lynch, Michael, ‘The externalised retina: selection and mathematisation in the visual documentation of objects in the life sciences’, Human Studies (1988), 11, pp. 201234, 219, 224. Useful background information is available in Stuart M. Feffer, ‘Microscopes to munitions: Ernst Abbe, Carl Zeiss, and the transformation of technical optics, 1850–1914’, Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Order No. 9504797, Berkeley, 1994.

11 Ian Hacking, ‘The self-vindication of the laboratory sciences’, in Andrew Pickering (ed.), Science as Practice and Culture, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, pp. 29–64.

12 John Quekett, A Practical Treatise of the Use of the Microscope, 3rd edn, London: H. Bailliere, 1855, p. 511.

13 Rheinberger, op. cit. (5), p. 31.

14 Alfred Nordmann, ‘Molecular disjunctions’, in Davis Baird, Alfred Nordmann and Joachim Schummer, Discovering the Nanoscale, Amsterdam: IOS Press, 2004, pp. 51–62.

15 Norbert Wiener, God & Golem, Inc.: A Comment on Certain Points Where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1964, p. 31. Thanks to Hannah Rogers and Kathryn Vignone of Cornell University for directing us to Wiener's notion of ‘operative image’.

16 Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1998; Walter Benjamin, ‘The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction’, in Hannah Arendt (ed.), Illuminations, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968, pp. 217–251.

17 Complicating the issue even further is current research and development aimed at commercializing conducting and semiconducting ‘ink’ with which electronic circuits could be printed either at home (on an inkjet printer) or in mass quantities (on the same presses that print mass circulation newspapers). Cyrus Mody, Research Frontiers for the Chemical Industry: Report on the Third Annual CHF-SCI Innovation Day, Philadelphia: Chemical Heritage Foundation, 2006, p. 16.

18 Inscribed devices are not inscription devices in Latour's sense (Bruno Latour, ‘Drawing things together’, in Michael Lynch and Steve Woolgar (eds.), Representation in Scientific Practice, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990, pp. 19–68), nor are they ‘literary inscriptions’ (Latour and Woolgar, op. cit. (8)) that transpose or translate research objects into paper representations. They are research objects, and the inscriptions are found and/or made by ‘writing’ upon and with their material surfaces. However, to complicate Wiener's and Latour's frameworks even further, we note that one of the most common tests of a microfabrication technique is to ‘write’ a text and then image (‘read’) it. The most common such ‘text objects’ are the names of a researcher's home institution, but iconic texts such as Richard Feynman's ‘Room at the bottom’ speech or the first page of A Tale of Two Cities are also used. See Newman, T.H., Williams, K.E. and Pease, R.F.W., ‘High resolution patterning system with a single bore objective lens’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology B (1987) 5, pp. 8891. Cute drawings and sculptures are also frequently microfabricated to test a technique's resolution. See Mody, Cyrus, ‘Small, but determined: technological determinism in nanoscience’, Hyle (2004), 10, pp. 101–30; as well as the ‘Chip Art’ section of the Smithsonian Chip Collection, available at (accessed 8 June 2009).

19 Very little, if any, work in nanotechnology currently involves the sort of assembly of nanobots by other nanobots envisioned by futurists and science fiction writers. Nor is it often a matter of atom-by-atom manipulation, though there are famous examples of atomic manipulation, such as Don Eigler's use of a scanning tunnelling microscope to position xenon atoms on a nickel surface to form the letters ‘IBM’. D.M. Eigler and E.Schweizer, K., ‘Positioning single atoms with a scanning tunneling microscope’, Nature (1990), 344, pp. 524–26. (See also the IBM ‘STM Image Gallery’, available at, accessed 4 June 2009). More often, bottom-up nanofabrication involves wet lab techniques that harness and cultivate the properties of material ingredients systematically to form larger molecular assemblies.

20 We advise readers to consult online tutorials about the Si(111) 7×7. The brief account that follows relies upon them, but without the abundant illustrations and animations that are available on websites. For a tutorial on the notational conventions for describing unit cell structure, see For an instructive animation see (both sites accessed 30 November 2009).

21 See Francoeur, Eric, ‘The forgotten tool: the design and use of molecular models’, Social Studies of Science (1997) 27, pp. 740.

22 Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air Pump, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

23 An excellent participant's history of surface reconstructions and LEED is M.Lagally, G., ‘Transition from reciprocal-space to real-space surface science – advent of the scanning tunneling microscope’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology A (2003) 21, pp. S54S63. Our study focuses largely on semiconductor surface science, but a memoir of LEED of metals can be found in Marcus, P.M., ‘LEED and clean metal surfaces: personal reminiscences and opinions’, Surface Science (1994), 299, pp. 447453.

24 E. Bengu, R. Plass, L.D. Marks et al., ‘Imaging the dimers in Si(111)-(7×7)’, Physical Review Letters (1996) 77, pp. 4226–4228, p. 4226.

25 For ‘bootstrapping’ in science see Barry Barnes, ‘On the conventional character of knowledge and cognition’, in Karin Knorr Cetina and Michael Mulkay (eds.), Science Observed, London: Sage, 1983, pp. 19–51.

26 Andrew Abbott, The System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labor, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

27 Surface science is blessed with a keen historical sense, and the plethora of participants' histories somewhat makes up for the sad lack of professional historians interested in the field. See, among others, Duke, C. B., ‘Surface science 1964–2003’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology A (2003) 21, pp. S34S35 (and the other contributions to this special issue of JVST A); idem, ‘Atoms and electrons at surfaces: a modern scientific revolution’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology A (1984), 2, pp. 139–143 (and, again, the other contributions to this special issue); idem, ‘The birth and evolution of surface science: child of the union of science and technology’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2003) 100, pp. 3858–3864.

28 Some participant histories that draw the connection between modern surface science and the older emitter-in-an-evacuated-envelope electron physics include Redhead, P.A., ‘The birth of electronics: thermionic emission and vacuum’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology A (1998) 16, pp. 13941401; A.Sommer, H., ‘The element of luck in research – photocathodes 1930 to 1980’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology A (1983), 1, pp. 119124; W.Spicer, E., ‘The development of photoemission spectroscopy and its application to the study of semiconductor interfaces: observations on the interplay between basic and applied research’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology A (1985), 3, pp. 461470.

29 See Leonard Reich, S., ‘Irving Langmuir and the pursuit of science in the corporate environment’, Technology and Culture (1983), 24, pp. 199221; and George Wise, Willis R. Whitney, General Electric, and the Origins of U.S. Industrial Research, New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

30 See Alpert, D., ‘Science, technology, and the future’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology (1981) 18, pp. 143147; M.C. Bridwell and J.Rodes, G., ‘History of the modern cryopump’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology A (1985), 3, pp. 472475; H.Farnsworth, E., ‘Preparation, structural characterization, and properties of atomically clean surfaces’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology (1982), 20, pp. 271280.

31 Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson, Crystal Fire: The Birth of the Information Age, New York: W.W. Norton, 1997.

32 For retrospectives on the American Vacuum Society (now known as the AVS Science and Technology Society) see H.W. Schleuning, ‘The first twenty years of the American Vacuum Society’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology (1973) 10, 833–842; J.L. Vossen and N.L. Hammond, ‘The American Vacuum Society – 1973–1983’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology A (1983) 1, 1351–1361; and J.Lafferty, M., ‘History of the American Vacuum Society and the International Union for Vacuum Science, Technique, and Applications’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology A (1984), 2, pp. 104109.

33 For reminiscences of early surface science at the NBS see T. Madey and B. Kendal, Special session on NBS/NIST Centennial (videotape by AVS), San Francisco, 2001.

34 James Murday, interview by Cyrus Mody, Washington, DC, 8 July 2002. Also R. Stanley Williams, interview by Cyrus Mody, Palo Alto, CA, 14 March 2006. Note Williams's comment: ‘Frankly I think that catalysis did a hell of a lot more for surface science, than surface science ever did for catalysis. I think there were a lot more surface science experiments that were justified based on the fact that they might somehow be applicable to catalysis than people doing real catalysis ever learned from surface science experiments.’ We are making a broadly similar argument for the way research on the 7×7 was justified in the context of semiconductor manufacturing.

35 Charles Duke, interview by Cyrus Mody, Webster, NY, 30 October 2003.

36 Philip Mirowski and Esther-Mirjam Sent, ‘The commercialization of science and the response of STS’, in Edward J. Hackett, Olga Amsterdamska, Michael Lynch and Judy Wacjman (eds.), Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, 3rd edn, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008, pp. 635–690.

37 It is not that there was no feedback into product design and manufacturing. Rather, we are arguing that the professionally prestigious problems recognized by corporate surface scientists did not align well with their employers' technologies.

38 Jene Golovchenko, interview by Cyrus Mody, Cambridge, MA, 20 February 2001.

39 Duke interview, op. cit. (35).

40 R.E. Schlier and H.Farnsworth, E., ‘Structure and adsorption characteristics of clean surfaces of germanium and silicon’, Journal of Chemical Physics (1959), 30, pp. 917926.

41 Lander, J.J. and Morrison, J., ‘Structures of clean surfaces of germanium and silicon, I’, Journal of Applied Physics (1963) 34, pp. 14031410; E.Wood, A., ‘Vocabulary of surface crystallography’, Journal of Applied Physics (1964), 35, pp. 13061312.

42 See, for example, R.M. Broudy and H.Abbink, C., ‘Silicon surface structure’, Applied Physics Letters (1968), 13, pp. 212213.

43 Surface scientists talk about a matrix of particles and radiation ‘in’ (to a surface) and of particles and radiation ‘out’ – for every combination of a specific particle or frequency of radiation that strikes a surface and a specific particle or frequency that it knocks out of the surface, there is an instrument to monitor the inputs and outputs and thereby tease out information about the surface. A good explanation of this matrix is D. Lichtman, ‘A comparison of the methods of surface analysis and their applications’, in A.W. Czanderna (ed.), Methods of Surface Analysis, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1975, pp. 39–73. See Williams interview, op. cit. (34).

44 Franz Himpsel, interview by Cyrus Mody, Madison, WI, 9 May 2001.

45 We only have room to cite a smattering of such models: L.C. Snyder, Z. Wasserman and J.Moskowitz, W., ‘Milk-stool models for Si(111) surface reconstruction’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology (1979), 16, pp. 12661269; E.McRae, G., ‘Surface stacking sequence and (7×7) reconstruction at Si(111) surfaces’, Physical Review B (1983), 28, pp. 23052307; F.J. Himpsel and I.Batra, P., ‘Structural models for Si(111)-(7×7)’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology A (1984), 2, pp. 952956; Chadi, D.J. et al. , ‘Atomic and electronic structure of the 7×7 reconstructed Si(111) surface’, Physical Review Letters (1980) 44, pp. 799802; Pandey, K.C., ‘Atomic and electronic structure of semiconductor surfaces’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology (1978), 15, pp. 440447.

46 Duke interview, op. cit. (35).

47 For a study of ‘involution’ in a discipline see Hugh Gusterson, ‘A pedagogy of diminishing returns: scientific involution across three generations of nuclear weapons science’, in David Kaiser (ed.), Pedagogy and the Practice of Science, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005, pp. 75–107. That surface science became involuted, or at least lost its ‘bloom’, is testified to in the Williams interview, op. cit. (34), as well as several other interviews with practitioners – e.g. Randall Feenstra, interview by Cyrus Mody, Pittsburgh, 2 May 2001.

48 Duke interview, op. cit. (35).

49 Himpsel interview, op. cit. (44).

50 Himpsel and Batra, op. cit. (45); McRae, op. cit. (45); E.G. McRae and C.Caldwell, W., ‘Structure of Si(111)-(7×7)H’, Physical Review Letters (1981), 46, pp. 16321635; Bennett, P.A. et al. , ‘Stacking-fault model for the Si(111)-(7×7) surface’, Physical Review B (1983) 28, pp. 36563659.

51 For more comprehensive histories of the STM and related instruments see C.C.M. Mody, ‘How probe microscopists became nanotechnologists’, in Davis Baird, Alfred Nordmann and Joachim Schummer (eds.), Discovering the Nanoscale, Amsterdam: IOS Press, 2004, pp. 119–133; and Mody, Cyrus C.M., ‘Corporations, universities, and instrumental communities: commercializing probe microscopy, 1981–1996’, Technology and Culture (2006) 47, pp. 5680.

52 Bengu et al., op cit. (24), p. 4226.

53 For philosophical discussions of ambiguities associated with ‘seeing’ or ‘imaging’ with the tip of a probe microscope see Bueno, Otávio, ‘Representation at the nanoscale’, Philosophy of Science (2006) 73, pp. 617628; Joseph Pitt, ‘When is an image not an image?’, in Joachim Schummer and Davis Baird (eds.), Nanotechnology Challenges: Implications for Philosophy, Ethics, and Society, Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, 2006, pp. 131–141. For an analogous case in which a measuring tool was turned into a visualization instrument see Joyce, Kelly, ‘From numbers to pictures: the development of magnetic resonance imaging and the visual turn in medicine’, Science as Culture (2006) 15, pp. 122. The invention of MRI involved a heated priority dispute between Raymond Damadian and Paul Lauterbur over whether Damadian's use of technology to measure nuclear magnetic resonance in selected bodily tissues anticipated Lauterbur's development of an imaging technology. Also see Prasad, Amit, ‘The (amorphous) anatomy of an invention: the case of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)’, Social Studies of Science (2007), 37, pp. 533560.

54 See Melmed, A.J., ‘Recollections of Erwin Müller's laboratory: the development of FIM (1951–1956)’, Applied Surface Science (1996) 94–95, pp. 1725; and idem, ‘The day atomic resolution happened’, Microscopy Today (2006) 14, pp. 46–47. For transmission electron microscopy see Crewe, A.V., Wall, J. and Langmore, J., ‘Visibility of single atoms’, Science (1970), 168, pp. 13381340.

55 Takayanagi, K. et al. , ‘Structural analysis of Si(111)–7×7 by UHV-transmission electron diffraction and microscopy’, Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology A (1985) 3, pp. 15021506.

56 Murday interview, op. cit. (34).

57 Binnig, G. et al. , ‘(111) facets as the origin of recontructed Au(110) surfaces’, Surface Science (1983) 131, pp. L379L384. See also Gerd Binnig, interview by Cyrus Mody, Rüschlikon, Switzerland, 26 September 2000; Heinrich Rohrer, interview by Cyrus Mody, Rüschlikon, Switzerland, 13 November 2001; Donald Hamann, interview by Cyrus Mody, Murray Hill, NJ, 28 February 2001.

58 The Josephson junction was based on theories of Brian Josephson, a British physicist who shared the 1973 Nobel Prize. For the IBM Josephson project see J.Logue, C., ‘From vacuum tubes to very large scale integration: a personal memoir’, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing (1998), 20, pp. 5568; and M.W. Browne, ‘Tinier than a nerve fiber, faster than a silicon chip’, New York Times, 8 January 1980. To learn more about the invention of the STM see Galina Granek and Hon, Giora, ‘Searching for asses, finding a kingdom: the story of the invention of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM)’, Annals of Science (2008), 65, pp. 101125.

59 Binnig interview, op. cit. (57).

60 Binnig interview, op. cit. (57), referring to Hans-Jörg Scheel's work; also see Scheel, H.J., Binnig, G. and Rohrer, H., ‘Atomically flat Lpe-grown facets seen by scanning tunneling microscopy’, Journal of Crystal Growth (1982), 60, pp. 199202.

61 Binnig interview, op. cit. (57).

62 Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-critical Philosophy (1964; first published 1958), New York: Harper and Row, p. 61.

63 The 7×7 as the ‘fruit fly of surface science’ is from Ruud Tromp, interview by Cyrus Mody, Yorktown Heights, NY, 23 February 2001.

64 Himpsel interview, op. cit. (44).

65 Binnig interview, op. cit. (57).

66 J. Hennig, ‘Changes in the design of scanning tunneling microscopic images from 1980 to 1990’, in Schummer and Baird, op. cit. (53), pp. 143–163. For another example of the exploitation of paper as a concrete modelling material see the discussion of the ‘paper doll’ method in Michael Lynch, Art and Artifact in Laboratory Science, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, pp. 284–287.

67 Perspectival views, often using shadowing effects, have become commonplace in both images and models of nanoscapes. For an illuminating examination of aesthetic technique in displays of quantum corrals see Toumey, Christopher, ‘Truth and beauty at the nanoscale’, Leonardo (2009) 42, pp. 151155.

68 Binnig, G. and Rohrer, H., ‘Scanning-tunneling microscopy: from birth to adolescence’, Reviews of Modern Physics (1987) 59, pp. 615625.

69 Arne Hessenbruch, ‘Introduction to Binnig and Rohrer's 10 publications, 1981–1986’, (accessed 5 June 2009).

70 Golovchenko interview op. cit. (38); Feenstra interview, op. cit. (47); and Hamann interview, op. cit. (57).

71 Golovchenko interview, op. cit. (38). See also Demuth, J.E., Koehler, U. and Hamers, R.J., ‘The STM learning curve and where it may take us’, Journal of Microscopy (1988), 152, pp. 299316.

72 Attributed to Jene Golovchenko by James Gimzewski, interview by Cyrus Mody, Los Angeles, 22 October 2001. The 7×7 is not the only ‘pornographic’ test object. In electrical engineering, the ‘Lena’ image from a 1971 Playboy centrefold is regularly used to compare different image processing algorithms. See Jamie Hutchinson, ‘Culture, communication, and an information age Madonna’, IEEE Professional Communication Society Newsletter (2001) 45.3, p. 1. For further analysis of this aspect of the 7×7, and perhaps test objects more generally, see the line of inquiry stemming from Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982.

73 The much-abused concept of ‘boundary object’ derives from Susan Leigh Star and Griesemer, James, ‘Institutional ecology, “translations” and boundary objects: amateurs and professionals in Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907–39’, Social Studies of Science (1989), 19, pp. 387420.

74 Hamers, R.J., Tromp, R.M. and Demuth, J.E., ‘Surface electronic-structure of Si(111)-(7×7) resolved in real space’, Physical Review Letters (1986) 56, pp. 19721975.

75 Becker, R.S. et al. , ‘New reconstructions on silicon (111) surfaces’, Physical Review Letters (1986) 57, pp. 10201023.

76 Lagally, op. cit. (23).

77 Williams interview, op. cit. (34).

78 Miquel Salmeron, interview by Cyrus Mody, Berkeley, CA, 9 March 2001.

79 Rumsfeld, op. cit. (4).

80 Andrew Gewirth, interview by Cyrus Mody, Urbana-Champaign, IL, 25 June 2001.

81 Graphite in various forms continues to be of interest as a research object and tool. Common forms of graphite of interest include single- and double-walled carbon nanotubes – sheets of graphite rolled in tubes with distinct ‘chirality’ in the way the ‘chicken wire’ is joined – and spherical geodesic arrangements of carbon atoms commonly called ‘Fullerenes’ and ‘Buckyballs’ named in honour of Buckminster Fuller.

82 Robert Hamers, interview by Cyrus Mody, Madison, WI, 9 May 2001.

83 Gimzewski interview, op. cit. (72).

84 Paul Hansma, one of those who hoped to sequence DNA with a probe microscope but who presciently exited that line of inquiry before it became controversial, puts it this way: ‘imaging DNA is probably the project that I spent the most intellectual effort on without ever publishing a paper’. Paul Hansma, interview by Cyrus Mody, Santa Barbara, CA, 7 August 2006.

85 Robert J. Driscoll, Michael G. Youngquist and John Baldeschweiler, D., ‘Atomic-scale imaging of DNA using scanning tunneling microscopy’, Nature (1990), 346, pp. 294296.

86 Driscoll, Youngquist and Baldeschweiler, op. cit. (85), 294.

87 Clemmer, C.R. and Beebe, T.P., ‘Graphite – a mimic for DNA and other biomolecules in scanning tunneling microscope studies’, Science (1991) 251, pp. 640642; W.M. Heckl and Binnig, G., ‘Domain-walls on graphite mimic DNA’, Ultramicroscopy (1992), 42, pp. 10731078; Lindsay, S.R. et al. , ‘Contrast and chemical-sensitivity in scanning tunneling microscope images of DNA’, Biophysical Journal (1990) 57, p. A383.

88 See Ashmore, Malcolm, ‘The theatre of the blind: starring a Promethean prankster, a prism, a pocket, and a piece of wood’, Social Studies of Science (1993) 23, pp. 67106.

89 Jane Frommer, interview by Cyrus Mody, San Jose, CA, 14 March 2001.

90 Matt Thompson, interview by Cyrus Mody, Chadd's Ford, PA, 26 February 2001. Though he received his Nobel for other reasons, Langmuir is best known in STS circles for his essay (originally a talk) on pathological science: Irving Langmuir, ‘Pathological science’ (ed. and transcribed by R.N. Hall), Physics Today (October 1989), pp. 36–48.

91 For the concept of epistemic culture and a comparison of molecular biology and particle physics see Karin Knorr Cetina, Epistemic Cultures: How Sciences Make Knowledge, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

92 Hansma interview, op. cit. (84).

93 Murday interview, op. cit. (34).

94 Murday interview, op. cit. (34).

95 Howard Mizes, interview by Cyrus Mody, Webster, NY, 23 October 2003. Also Albrecht, T. R., ‘Observation of tilt boundaries in graphite by scanning tunneling microscopy and associated tip effects’, Applied Physics Letters (1988) 52, pp. 362364.

96 For ‘reverse salient’ see Thomas P. Hughes, Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880–1930, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983, pp. 73–75. An art-historical take on how scientists interpret such probe microscope images can be found in Jochen Hennig, ‘The instrument in the image: revealing and concealing the condition of the probing tip in scanning tunneling microscope design’, in Helmar Schramm, Ludger Schwarte and Jan Lazardzig (eds.), Instruments in Art and Science: On the Architectonics of Cultural Boundaries in the 17th Century, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008, pp. 348–361.

97 However, ‘graphene’ (a monoatomic layer of graphite), often deposited on a semiconductor substrate, has become an important and dynamic area of research in the past ten years. Kenneth Chang, ‘Thin carbon is in: graphene steals nanotubes’ allure', New York Times, 10 April 2007.

98 This theme is explored more fully in the ‘new institutionalism’ in sociology. See DiMaggio, Paul J. and Powell, Walter W., ‘The iron cage revisited: institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields’, American Sociological Review (1983) 48, pp. 148160.

99 The evocative term ‘invisible college’ was once used to describe the research networks integrated by literatures and indexed through citations: Diana Crane, Invisible Colleges: Diffusion of Knowledge in Scientific Communities, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972. The term was a misnomer, since the ‘college’ in question is not invisible, but is instead made visible through the very literature that indexes and integrates it. The literary means and specific modes of integration are better described as ‘virtual’ (in the sense of ‘virtual witnessing’, in Shapin and Schaffer, op cit. (22)).

100 Latour, op. cit. (18).

101 For criticisms of Latour see Johns, op. cit. (16); and Cetina, Karin Knorr and Amann, Klaus, ‘Image dissection in natural science inquiry’, Science, Technology & Human Values (1990), 15, pp. 259283.

Research for this article is based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement No. 0531184 (Cyrus Mody) and Science and Society Award No. SES-0822757 (Michael Lynch). Versions of this paper were presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for History of Technology (SHOT), and at workshops and colloquia at the South Carolina NanoCenter, University of Wisconsin Visual Culture Center, Rice University Humanities Research Center and Stanford University STS Program. We are very grateful to Karin Knorr Cetina, Davis Baird, Rebecca Slayton, Chris Toumey and many others who gave us comments and criticisms. We also are deeply indebted to the scientists and engineers who were kind enough to share their reflections with us. Finally, we would like to thank the BJHS editors and anonymous referees for their comments and help with the revision of the paper.

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The British Journal for the History of Science
  • ISSN: 0007-0874
  • EISSN: 1474-001X
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