Nature, who with like state, and equal pride,
Her great works does in height and distance hide,
And shuts up her minute bodies all
In curious frames, imperceptibly small.
Ricardo Leigh (1649-1728), ‘Greatness in Little’
But it is our generation who can finally see what goes on at this level. Nature’s greatest powers – the photosynthesis that powers all life on the planet, the intricate structures that create iridescent butterfly wings; the billions of tiny hairs that allow the gecko to walk on the ceiling –all these are nanophenomena
Trying to mimic the powers for our own technical ends is the burgeoning science of bioinspiation. Straightforwardly working with the very small is the even more burgeoning science of nanotechnology. In truth, there is considerable overlap: the gecko sticks by the laws of physics. A dead gecko sticks as well as a live one, which is why there is now a race to create dry gecko-style adhesives.
My co-author for our recently published NanoScience: Giants of the Infinitesimal, Tom Grimsey, has worked for some years to make the nanoworld visible via the large-scale kinetic self-assembly tanks he has devised with fellow artist Theo Kaccoufa. The Invisible Garden is the latest show that brings the world of the small into the light of day. Many of nature’s marvels are featured in my The Gecko’s Foot (2006) and the most recent marvels are covered in Nanoscience: Giants of the Infinitesimal (Papadakis, 2014).