Home Chapter 5 Active components, semiconductors, integrated circuits and artists
Active components, semiconductors, integrated circuits and artists

Free of the arbitrary limits of our biological evolution, the children of our minds will be constrained by the physics and logic of the universe. ~Hans Morovec

Question: Are there materials that are both good conductors and bad conductors, perhaps at different times, in relation to input voltages and current?


Resistors, capacitors, and inductors are considered passive components because the components do not change in relation to varying voltages and currents.

Active components are a different class of components because they react and change according to applied signals.

Active components used in electronic circuits are constructed with semiconductor materials that change according to varying voltages. Semiconductors can allow amplification so a small weak signal can be amplified and turned into a large powerful signal and they can function as digital and on-off gates.

Therefore, at times semiconductors are very good conductors and at other times they are good insulators. This is all controlled by applying voltages to the semiconductor material and it is why they are called active components.

We have all heard of micro-scale transistor devices constructed using semiconductor silicon and artists/inventors are also inspired by micro-scale structures and are using silicon to create novel works of nanotechnology art.


Nanotechnology is the science and manipulation of atoms and molecules to build complex structures with exacting specifications at the nanometer scale. One nanometer is about 1/50,0000 the width of a human hair or smaller than the wavelength of light.


The artists Ken Goldberg and Karl Borringer have used micro-scale silicon as an art material not for its electronic properties but to make a replica of Frank Lloyd Wright’s House on Falling Water. [1]


 The Invisible Cantilever by Karl Borringer and Ken Goldberg. 1996. San Fransisco, California. A 1/1 millionth scale version of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, invisible to the naked eye or the width of a human hair


In Goldberg’s recent book The Robot in the Garden, he pulled together a series of contributors that discuss the central theme of Telematics and telepistemology. Telepistemology is the study of what we come to know from perception at a distance, which can involve telescopes and microscopes. [2] In the work above microscopic perception and magnification create questions about our extended senses and how this may influence the nature of what we come to understand about the nature of our macro and micro universe.

The media artist Victoria Vesna, UCLA, and James Gimzewski, a nanoscientist at UCSB, are also inspired by the very small; with a twist. Their work Zero@wavefunction is a monumental projection installation that allows humans to interact with large-scale projected replicas of molecular-scale nanoparticles. [3]


 Zero @ Wave Function by Victoria Vesna and James Gimzewski. 2002. Here, the viewer is manipulating a projected molecule called buckminsterfulereen.


The viewer can interact with these particles by creating a shadow next to the projected nanoparticles and by moving around and changing their shadow. Viewer/participants now have the ability to form, shape, and influence these projected illusory molecules and this work is telling of the coming nanotech age where scientists and artists will be able to manipulate nanotech materials.