Instrumental Community

Instrumental Community: Probe Microscopy and the Path to Nanotechnology

Cyrus C. M. Mody
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Instrumental Community
    Book Description:

    The scanning tunneling microscope (STM) has been hailed as the "key enabling discovery for nanotechnology," the catalyst for a scientific field that attracts nearly $20 billion in funding each year. In Instrumental Community, Cyrus Mody argues that this technology-centric view does not explain how these microscopes helped to launch nanotechnology--and fails to acknowledge the agency of the microscopists in making the STM and its variants critically important tools. Mody tells the story of the invention, spread, and commercialization of scanning probe microscopy in terms of the networked structures of collaboration and competition that came into being within a diverse, colorful, and sometimes fractious community of researchers. By forming a community, he argues, these researchers were able to innovate rapidly, share the microscopes with a wide range of users, and generate prestige (including the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physics) and profit (as the technology found applications in industry). Mody shows that both the technology of probe microscopy and the community model offered by the probe microscopists contributed to the development of political and scientific support for nanotechnology and the global funding initiatives that followed. In the course of his account, Mody charts the shifts in U.S. science policy over the last forty years--from the decline in federal basic research funding in the 1970s through the rise in academic patenting in the 1980s to the emergence of nanotechnology discourse in the 1990s--that have resulted in today's increasing emphasis on the commercialization of academic research.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29818-6
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. 1 Introduction: Communities, Innovation, and Knowledge
    (pp. 1-26)

    At 11 a.m. on January 21, 2000, President Bill Clinton took to the stage of the California Institute of Technology’s Beckman Auditorium to announce a National Nanotechnology Initiative for the United States.¹ This moment had been in preparation since the early 1990s, when a small group of federal grant officers, Clinton administration science policy makers, and elite scientists had sought government investment and coordination for a new, distinct science of the very small. Clinton’s speech merely recognized nanotechnology as a scientific movement already well underway. Yet that act of recognition transformed an informal, sometimes maligned research area into a well-funded...

  5. 2 Inventing a Community
    (pp. 27-58)

    Not every research technology becomes the focus of an instrumental community. Building a community is, after all, difficult and often thankless work. Cultivating potential members requires a different skill set than inventing an instrument. It is not always obvious whom an inventor should approach to join a nascent instrumental community, or where to find such people. Some inventors may even prefer that their instruments not be widely adopted, since an instrumental community can dilute their influence over what their invention looks like or how it is used.

    For probe microscopy, as for many other technologies, inventors found the raw materials...

  6. 3 Adopting, Adapting, Departing: Early STM at IBM and at Bell Labs
    (pp. 59-86)

    Scientists at IBM Research and at Bell Labs were not the only early adopters of the STM, but in the mid 1980s one could get that impression. For instance, Jim Murday, a program officer at the Office of Naval Research who funded many surface scientists and probe microscopists (and who assembled his own surface-science STM group at the Naval Research Lab), notes that when he compiled statistics on which nations sent participants to early STM conferences, he listed IBM as a country all by itself.¹ If we think of the STM community as a network that, at the beginning, had...

  7. 4 Variation and Selection: Probe Microscopy Comes to California
    (pp. 87-124)

    As we saw in chapter 3, surface scientists at Bell Labs and at IBM quickly formed a dense STM network (defined by both collaboration and intense competition). This sub-community of probe microscopy initially expanded within these two firms, but then carried UHV STM out into the wider surface-science community.

    The technique’s inventors, however, were not strongly or permanently tied to surface-science STM. Binnig, Rohrer, and Gerber became adroit enough at surface science to prepare samples and interpret images of skillfully chosen reconstructions, and as a consequence their 7×7 data secured the STM a powerful constituency within IBM. The Zurich team...

  8. 5 Digital Instruments: Commercialization in a Changing Community
    (pp. 125-162)

    In the 1980s, the commercialization of academic research suddenly became a much-touted, much-disputed, much-studied phenomenon. In a sense, of course, the selling of professors’ knowledge is as old as the university itself. In the United States, the expectation of commercial return has encouraged university research since at least the middle of the nineteenth century. What was new in the 1980s was not the invention of commercial possibilities, but the discovery of commercializing activities that were already ongoing. That heightened awareness of academic commercialization has generated a voluminous literature by economists, management scholars, sociologists, and (to a lesser extent) historians.¹ That...

  9. 6 Probe Microscopy and the Path to Nanotechnology
    (pp. 163-200)

    Commercial production of STMs and AFMs accelerated the dramatic growth of probe microscopy. It would be next to impossible to locate every piece of research generated with a probe microscope or every commercial SPM sold, but we can get a clear sense of how commercialization amplified research output by examining some crude proxies. By the rough metric of the Science Citation Index, annual production of probe-microscopy articles rose slowly from the STM’s invention through 1989, only hitting 220 to 250 articles per year at the end of that period.¹ But in the 1990s, annual publication rates rose much faster, zooming...

  10. Appendix A: List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 201-202)
  11. Appendix B: List of Interviews Conducted by the Author
    (pp. 203-208)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 209-232)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-254)
  14. Index
    (pp. 255-260)