Kumar Group Uses Electron Microscopes to Create Awe-Inspiring Images

Nature is a masterful artist, responsible for the sweeping vistas around us. Nature's hand is also evident on the microscopic level when microscopic objects are magnified a billion times over. Using high power electron or optical microscopes, Professor Challa V. Kumar and his Ph.D. students capture the natural world on the nano-level, creating awe-inspiring images of natural materials that are as majestic as the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls.

Over the past few years, Kumar and his students have designed an art exhibit entitled, "Art in Nanochemistry." The exhibit consists of individually framed, hand-colored electron micrograph images. Over twenty unique pieces exist in the collection. These pieces have been featured in locations such as the Homer Babbidge Library Gallery, the Bradley Airport Gallery, and the Windham Hospital Art Gallery.

  • Art in Nanochemistry
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    Scanning electron microscope image of highly ordered protein/DNA/dye complexes assembled as a light capturing antenna for potential use in solar cells, artificially colored. [Dr. C.V. Kumar Laboratory Collection, University of Connecticut]

Art in Nanochemistry
Prof. Challa V. Kumar, Graduate Student Megan Puglia, Graduate Student Caterina Riccardi, & State Senator Mae Flexer

UConn Nanochemistry Lab Earns Proclamation for Art Exhibit

The University of Connecticut’s Kumar research group will accept a proclamation by Connecticut state senator and UConn alum Mae Flexer Monday for its exhibit “Art in Nanochemistry.”

Dr. Challa Kumar, who has led this lab art project since 2014, said he conceived the exhibit, a 22-photograph set of materials on a nanometer’s scale, in an effort to reach out to the public and promote science in a way that everyone can understand.

“We wanted to represent nanochemistry in a way that the general public without a science degree will be able to appreciate it,” Kumar said. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we do some artwork?’ so people can look at it and we can tell them a little bit more about how we made it and why it’s important.”

Caterina Riccardi, a member of the project’s team of eight chemistry graduate students, said the exhibit was created by using “a scanning or transmission electron microscope, which employs a beam of electrons to create an image rather than a light beam used in conventional optical microscopes.”

“Electron microscopy can help us view objects on a nanometer scale (one billionth of a meter), which allows us to view things that are too small to see by the naked eye,” Riccardi said.

According to a public statement by the group, the proclamation is in response to its art exhibition at the Connecticut State Legislative Office Building, which took place in January and was a collaborative effort with Brian Cohen, a member of a non-profit educational institute known as Positive Expression.

Team member Jingwen Ding said the exhibit has also been featured at venues such as the Benton Museum of Art, Bradley International Airport, Windham Hospital and Homer Babbidge Library.

Team member Megan Puglia said though the exhibit is an artistic endeavor, it continuously supports their research in nanochemistry.

“We do actually sell the pieces,” Puglia said. “Any profit we make from them either goes back towards the exhibit or towards the Kumar lab research materials.”

Puglia said the team will continue developing images as it finds fit in its research.

“Any … time Dr. Kumar sees an image he likes he suggests that it could become part of the exhibit. One even came up today,” Puglia said. “It’s an active exhibit.”

Kumar said future developments on the project will go towards establishing a theme centered on recognizing scale in photography.

“All cameras work off of the same principal. It is amazing how you can (photograph) such a small object such as an atom versus the entire galaxy and everything in between using a different kind of light source,” Kumar said. “This is what we’re trying to show.”


Article courtesy of Collin Sitz, The Daily Campus