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MBTV: Michael Davidson's Silicon Zoo: The Psychedelic Art of the Microchip

IBM burned up the Internet yesterday with the announcement that it has made "a major breakthrough in quantum computing": We hear about breakthroughs that suggest we...

by Derek Mead
Feb 29 2012, 3:00pm

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IBM burned up the Internet yesterday with the announcement that it has made a major breakthrough in quantum computing. We hear about breakthroughs that suggest we’re on the cusp of using quantum computers every few months. While every one is interesting and impressive in its own right, over time they kind of lose their luster. I think it comes down to a simple conundrum: With something so purely numbers-based like a computer, how do you represent the beauty of innovation?

Yeah, that’s Dogbert chilling on a processor.

Enter Michael Davidson, who heads Industrial Photomicrography department at the FSU site of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. Motherboard visited Davidson in 2009 to learn about how he takes microscopic photos of cells through high-powered microscopes. The results are mind-meltingly psychedelic, with the sites nature’s most minuscule processes blown up in technicolor images that make you wonder what exactly it is that you’re made of. He’s brought the microbiological beauty into the commercial realm, and has used his images of the crystallization of beers and pharmaceuticals for ads, screen savers, and even a line of neckties.

But it’s on the the computer front that Davidson’s work is most fascinating. He’s the discoverer and curator of the “Silicon Zoo” a collection of ridiculously-tiny pictures and drawings etched directly into the silicon circuity of mass-market microprocessors. The drawings, which range from a 2mm-long Crayola crayon to a Waldo one-third the width of a human hair, are basically little Easter eggs left behind by engineers and designers. It’s microscopic graffiti that shows that, no matter how powerful and small a computer, there’s still a human behind it.

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