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Powered by Imagination: Nanobots at the Science Photo Library

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Nanobots have been a key image deployed in nanoscience and nanofiction. At present nanobots are still largely 'imaginary'. But what do 'imaginary' nanobots look like, how are they visually and imaginatively constructed and what functions are they envisioned to have? And what can such images tell us about the aesthetic and cultural conventions and metaphors that are employed, and expectations and visions created or engineered, in the process of 'visualizing' nanoscience and nanotechnology for science and society? To answer these questions images of nanobots available at the Science Photo Library were studied. Nanobots were envisioned as 'working' mostly in futuristic domains of health and medicine. Most nanobots were artistically rendered as familiar objects or animals, as fulfilling useful functions in healthcare, rather than as running wild and causing harm. Such images were displayed mostly to engage lay publics with biotechnology and nanotechnology. By selectively using metaphors, images of nanobots tended to assimilate the unknown into the known and the unfamiliar into the familiar. This assimilation invites viewers to react to these images as if nanobots already existed and as if they were normal. Thus the images open up a space for 'normalizing' this new, rather speculative technology; it is framed in such a way as to invite public acceptance and even excitement.
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Keywords: Nanobots; images; nanotechnology; science fiction

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute for Science and Society, University of Nottingham, UK

Publication date: September 1, 2008

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