UND physicist teams with Red River High School for NanoArt Exhibition on May 5 at the Empire Arts Center


David L. Dodds

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

College of Arts & Sciences


What : University of North Dakota-Red River High School NanoArt Reception

Where : The Empire Arts Center, 415 DeMers Avenue, downtown Grand Forks

When : 4:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 5


The UND Physics and Astrophysics Department and Red River High School Art Department have joined forces again to present the third annual NanoArt exhibition. The event, titled NanoArt:Hidden Landscapes II, reveals a surprising intersection between the worlds of nanoscience and art.

“Getting up close to a material can forever change how one views the world,” says Nuri Oncel, assistant professor in the Physics and Astrophysics department. “Up close in this case means less than a nanometer, a unit of measurement at one billionth, or 10−9, of a meter. The images we measure show individual atoms and molecules.”

At UND, Oncel uses a Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) to measure and take images of the microscopic surfaces of atoms and molecules. STM images are “captured” not with light but with electrons, which essentially “tunnel” through matter due to the novel properties of matter when dealing with quantum mechanics.

Studying these surfaces can help scientists design better semiconductors, microelectronics, and thousands of other materials.

“STM images not only reveal the laws of physics at the atomic scale, but also help us to design the next generation of various technologies,” Oncel said.

Seeking a way to share these images with the public, Oncel collaborated with Betsy Thaden, an art instructor at Red River High School.

“Whenever real-world approaches are introduced into the classroom, the projects become more relevant,” says Thaden.

“Art tells a story and communicates to the viewer. Students were given the opportunity to interpret the 3-d topography (the hidden landscapes) of molecular and atomic-scaled structures through the medium of paint to tell their story and record the beauty of things typically unseen by the naked eye,” says Thaden.

Oncel visited Thaden’s art classes and provided background information needed for students to interpret correctly what they see in these STM images. The rest is left to students’ talent and imagination.

“The NanoArt collaborative project allowed students to further understand the cross-curricular nature of art, how art is related to other fields of study and gave them a glimpse into the purpose of university research,” Thaden said.

The NanoArt collaborative project between UND Physics and Astrophysics Department and Red River High School began in 2012 and is in its third year.