Graphene has been described as a ‘wonder material’: it’s a two-dimensional material stronger than steel, but also incredibly light. It can conduct electricity and heat, and one sheet (a single atom thick and invisible to the naked eye) can support the weight of an 8+ lb. cat. It’s heralded as a material that will change the world — and Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Pinshane Huang is changing the world, inspiring the next generation’s scientists in the ‘Wonder Materials’ exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, England.
Assistant Professor Pinshane Huang
“I’m a photographer of atoms. I invent new ways to see and understand materials at the level of single atoms. Seeing the atoms in graphene for the first time was one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve had as a scientist,” says Pinshane. “I wondered how changing one individual atom could control how a material behaves. Graphene is perfect for exploring this idea, because it’s so thin that adjusting a few atoms can have a huge effect on its properties.”
Pinshane is an electron microscopist, using a beam of electrons to create images of specimens. This may sound very technical, but her work is extremely visually compelling, naturally. It bridges the gap between what is considered science and art. She describes the images in the exhibit that show anything from single atoms in graphene to colorful ‘patchwork quilts’ of 2D materials as capturing the imaginations of anyone interested in the frontiers of technology.
“This exhibit features the work and lives of scientists around the world who work on materials that are just a few atoms thick. I was one of the scientists whose locker was featured, with a collection of items to show who I am, as a scientist and a person, to help inspire young people to pursue careers in science,” Pinshane explains. “It was equally important to me to represent women in science and pass along some of the incredible generosity and mentorship I’ve had from women over the course of my career… If I can do something to inspire a young person to become a scientist, become a teacher, or vote to make sure we have funding for scientific research, that makes it worthwhile for me.”
Museum of Science and Industry Director Sally MacDonald has commented: “The Museum of Science and Industry is a place which tells the story of how pioneering ideas can change the world, and this exhibition is a perfect example of this. We are really excited about getting people engaged in finding out more and discussing the opportunities and challenges of this intriguing subject.”
The exhibit opened in July of 2016 and will remain open until June 25, 2017.