Believing in ESS: Size, Vision and Pioneering

Project: Research

Layman's description

An analysis of the cultural metaphors and aesthetic tropes used in marketing ESS.

Believing in ESS: Size, Vision and Pioneering

ESS is popularly described as a gigantic microscope, which will use neutrons instead of ordinary light to let us see inside matter on the subatomic level. Other metaphors also foreground vision: “Seeing with neutron eyes”, and “Neutrons give the big picture” are examples from information brochures.
This emphasis on vision is typical of what the philosopher of science Don Ihde calls the visualism in science today, i.e. the tendency to represent data in pictures rather than in text or numbers. However, “visualization” means something else in techno-scientific contexts like ESS than in everyday life. Rarely is it about uncovering things in their “natural appearance”, since particles imperceptible by human vision do not, by nature, “appear” at all. Instead complex instruments and software produce statistical maps that represent reality according to very different principles than ordinary photographs. Nonetheless, ESS is commonly understood to be about “seeing”.
My project examines how “the visual” is mobilized, in texts and in pictures, to bridge the divide between technoscience and the general public, and to inscribe cultural meaning onto the inner structure of matter.
Effective start/end date2011/01/012012/12/31


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