March for Science, or the day I made the Universe scream at an atomic level

Science is important and politicians must not ignore it. There I made a political statement in honor of the people marching today to make that very point, who will make it much better than I can. #marchforscience. Ok, enough politics, now back to paying attention to me.

One of my favorite assignments will always be photographing a scientist or academic person. I do not care what the field, it is just always so cool to hang out with them for a while and geek out. The main photo from this post was an event full of food scientists working with the Culinary Institute of America (yes, the CIA), they were working to better understand how food changes as it is cooked, as it is stored, shipped etc. I have many more examples of scientists but was too lazy to look up all the files, so you will have to be happy with the ones I have included here. Also gives me more name dropping opportunities in later posts!

Trying to write a one-sentence description of any of these amazing people would be a great disservice to the work they have or still are doing. Look them up, each one is amazingly interesting, I just had a few minutes or maybe an hour to bask in their brilliance.

Dr. Mark B. Goodwin, Assistant Director of Research and Collections, UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology
UC Berkeley Mathmatics Professor Allen Knuttsen for the The Chro
Professor Allen Knutson, currently at Cornell, when I photographed him he was at UC Berkeley
Nobel Laureate, Elizabeth Blackburn, UCSF professor of biochemis
Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, Nobel Laureate, President of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, at the time I photographed her she was a biological researcher at UCSF.
Aubrey de Gray, author -- Washington Post
Aubrey de Gray author and biomedical gerontologist, currently the Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation. This photograph was taken at San Francisco airport, he was between flights and that was the only time we could get him photographed for the deadline. We had something like five minutes to find a location, make the photos and related small talk and he had to board the plane. Sometimes you have to make the most of what ever time people can spare.
Alexander Shulgin for the The Observer Sunday Magazine
Alexander Shulgin, credited with introducing MDMA (ecstasy) to psychologists in the late 1970s for psychopharmaceutical use and for the discovery, synthesis and personal bioassay of over 230 psychoactive compounds for their psychedelic and entactogenic potential. He was so generous with his time, so interested in talking about his work, I think myself and the writer could have stayed there for the entire day if our schedules permitted.

Oh, you are probably wondering what the title of this post is about….

I do not even remember when exactly this was, or if my memory is entirely correct, but here goes. I had an assignment to go to an IBM research lab to photograph the leader of the team that had mastered the ability to move single carbon atoms. IBM scientists discovered how to move and position individual atoms on a metal surface using a scanning tunneling microscope. The technique was demonstrated in April 1990 at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., where scientists created the world’s first structure: the letters “I-B-M” — assembled one atom at a time.

It was so long ago I shot the assignment on film, so would need to dig the negative out of wherever and scan it, but that is not what was important to this story.

The researchers were describing to me how they moved the individual atoms around, I pretended to have any idea what they were talking about. I asked them to show me how it worked, so he sat down at a computer, turned on whatever the program was they did the magic with. The actual atoms being moved were in the same room but behind a lot of shielding form magnets or radiation or whatever. The screen showed a graphic representation of what was going on with the atoms. The best part is the vibrations at the atomic level as they moved things around were translated to a screeching sound. He moved the atoms around a bit, then…. OH MY GOD, asked me if I wanted to give it a try.

Hell yes! I sat down at the computer, he told me how to position the mouse and “grab” one of the atoms and move it. As I moved the atom, the vibrations on the atomic level made the screaming sound. If any actual scientists read this and I have described whatever was actually going on please forgive me, this is how I remember it.

The researcher said something like “You are one of the very few people on this planet who have ever moved a single atom like that”

That was fucking awesome. I have moved the universe at an atomic level and made it scream.

Finally I fully understood why my parents had to name me Thor.



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