DETROIT – President-elect Barack Obama is larger than life these days. Except, that is, at the University of Michigan, where he has become remarkably small.
A team of researchers has created carbon nanotube images of Obama whose details can only be seen with optical and electron microscopes.
"I really didn't mean it in a political way," said John Hart, assistant professor in mechanical engineering and leader of the research team at Michigan. "It was really for fun. It was a basic demonstration of what we can do with nanotubes."
Hart said he hopes the interest in "nanobama" gives the public a better understanding of nanotechnology research and its applications.
Each of the millions of hollow carbon cylinders that make up the incoming president's image is tens of thousands times smaller than a human hair, but stronger than steel.
Patterns arranged in the shapes of Obama face are made of metal catalyst nanoparticles. The nanotubes are "grown" like forests of trees on the patterns by 1,000 degree-plus heat in a chemical reaction.
The images include a "nanobama" flag and "nanobama" blocks. There's even a "nanobiden" image of the incoming vice president, Joe Biden.
The idea behind "nanobama" came to Hart about six months ago, but he and his team didn't do anything with it until just before the election. It took about two days of work on their off-time to "grow" and photograph the nanotube images, and download them onto his Web site, www.nanobama.com, Hart said.
Most of the 50,000 hits to the site came after Obama's Nov. 4 victory over Republican Sen. John McCain.
"Having fun with something like this is important to maintaining a creative culture, he said.
Other famous nanoscale etchings and objects include a U.S. flag, guitar and a silicon chip consisting of nearly 300,000 saxophone images, created by Cornell University for inclusion at the Bill Clinton Presidential Library.
The idea behind what would become nanotechnology was suggested by physicist Richard Feynman in 1959 in his classic talk, "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom." Practical applications for the field of study include improving health care, energy and even military weapons.
University researchers Richard Smalley, Robert Curl Jr. and Harold Kroto shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1996 for the discovery of the nanotube's carbon cousin, dubbed buckminsterfullerenes because of their resemblance to the geodesic domes of Buckminster Fuller.
Smalley's research into fullerenes and nanotubes helped lead the U.S. to launch the National Nanotechnology Initiative in 2000.
At Boise State University and elsewhere, researchers have said they used emerging nanotechnology techniques to devise a way to kill cancer cells while leaving normal cells healthy.
High-performance solar cells and batteries, computer processors and memory, and lightweight composite materials for things like cars and planes also are uses for nanotechnology, a term used to describe the manufacture or manipulation of materials at the molecular or atomic level.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering how to regulate products made with nanotechnology.