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The Last Pictures - A Microcosm


A popular theme in science fiction holds that if you could journey to the tiny length scales where quantum physics arises, you would find a microcosmic reflection of our everyday world, with tiny creatures living microscopic lives. Whether or not this is true, it has certainly inspired many to harness the microscopic world to tangibly capture memories of our everyday lives. Last year, artist Trevor Paglen, working with NSF-funded IGERT trainee Adam McCaughan and faculty member Karl Berggren, produced “The Last Pictures,” a collection of 100 images, meant to outlast humanity’s time on Earth. Adam etched the images into a silicon wafer at the MIT Quantum Nanostructure and Nanofabrication lab, using photolithographic techniques identical to those he employs for his research as a trainee in the NSF interdisciplinary Quantum Information Science & Engineering IGERT program at MIT. On November 20, 2012, this wafer was launched aboard a rocket from Kazhakstan on a satelite put into geosynchronous orbit, where it is expected to survive at least until the Sun becomes a red dwarf, 5 billion years in the future. See RLE news release, photograph of Paglen and McCaughan in the nanofabrication lab, article in the New Yorker.

Address Goals

iQuISE IGERT trainee Adam McCaughan is a proficient practitioner of photolithography, which is employed in the fabrication of many quantum information devices, such as ion traps and single-photon detectors. This outreach project provides tangible demonstration of such technical skills to a broad audience outside of the immediate scientific community, in a unique way commemorating connections between fundamental research and art.