Imaging the Invisible

Topic: The Nature of Science Subtopic: Science & Society

Case Study

of an Exhibit

by Allison Marsh

Published on May 21, 2012

  • Description and goals

    Ever since Anton van Leeuwenhoek first began experimenting with the microscope in the 17th century, scientists have struggled with illustrating phenomena not visible to the naked eye. Imaging the Invisible surveys the history of scientific imaging to investigate the changing meaning of data representation. From Robert Hooke’s hand drawn observations of the cell to artists’ depictions of nanobots, this exhibit showcases historical examples as well as modern research to highlight the challenge of illustrating what scientists see.

    The exhibit opens with four fundamental questions:

    • How do you document a world that is not visible to the human eye?
    • How do you convince people of things that are too small or too fast or too deep to see?
    • Why do we trust scientific instruments to produce faithful images of an invisible reality?
    • When do scientific images become works of art?

    This exhibit was funded in part by NSF grant #SES-0531160, Nanotechnology in Society Network Node: Imaging, Scientific Change and Public Understanding of Emerging Nanotechnologies.

  • Exhibit Opened: August 2011

  • Location: Columbia, SC, United States

  • Estimated Cost: $10,000 to $50,000 (US)

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