Martin Kemp’s “science in culture” column in this week’s Nature – Heaven in grains of sand (subscription required) – brings our attention to a collaboration between nanoscientists at UCLA and some Tibetan monks. This installation – Nanomandala – is based on a Tibetan mandala – a symbolic representation of the cosmos built up from individual grains of sand; nanoscientist Jim Gimzewski responds to the mandala by using optical and scanning electron microscopy to reveal its features on finer and finer scales, culminating in the molecular. In the resulting video installation by Victoria Vesna “visitors watch as images of a grain of sand are projected in evolving scale from the molecular structure of a single grain to the recognizable image of a pile of sand. On the atomic scale the sand particles are like atoms, but a thousand of times smaller. From a bottom-up method of visual image building, a sand mandala slowly emerges.”

Monks in nano-lab
Tibetan monks working with UCLA nanoscientist Jim Gimzewski

My own knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism (or indeed any other kind) is of the very superficial kind that came from growing up as a would-be bohemian teenager in provincial Britain – in Van Morrison’s words, “I went home and read my Christmas Humphreys book on Zen”. But I rather agree with Martin Kemp’s conclusion: “There is something very beautiful and moving in this holy alliance of Buddhist spiritual patience, founded on minute care and untiring repetition, and the unholy processes of iteration of which modern computers are capable. The mandala-makers and the nanoscientists share the wonder of scale, involving countless parts to compose the ordered whole.” The allusion to Blake that Kemp makes in the title of his piece makes the connection to Western mysticism too:

“To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour”

An 8ft sand mandala created at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as part of the Nanomandala project.

3 thoughts on “Nanomandala”

  1. I would only suggest that the quote by Albert Einstein is most appropriate in this instance adeptly reiterated by James K. Gimzewski on his site – ‘I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.’

    Then there was Tom Grimsey’s contribution at the Sandpit and finally these words ‘The only thing about me is that I am an average healthy human being. All the things I have been able to do, any human being or anyone of you could do equally well or better. I was able to accomplish what I did by refusing to be hooked on a game of life that had nothing to do with the way the universe was going. I was just a throwaway who was willing to commit myself to what needed to be done.’ – R. Buckminster Fuller for whom Bucky Balls and Fullerenes are named

    Nanotechnology is, I suggest rapidly becoming the all embracing [r]evolution which, perhaps, might be the catalyst which ties humanity together. Dare I wax philosophic in this venue.

  2. “To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour” nice log, thanks..

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