by Monica Sand


Silicon is - after oxygen - the second most abundant element on earth. In nature it never appears in free form, but rather in compound materials like sand or quartz.
It is an element which in its pure crystalline form has a very regular structure. Silicon is a material which belongs to the future as an important component in electronics and computerised equipment for example in the use and construction of microchips.
Silicon also has applications in traditional materials like glass and in modern materials like "airglass".

I have worked together with researchers at the University of Linköping, the Department of Physics and Measurement Technology to understand something about the different dimensions of silicon.
The result is an exhibition which tries to give a spatial description of silicon and a catalogue which tries to show two different processes of work, the scientific and the artistic, of which the latter finds its inspiration and material in the former.


Using scanning tunnelling microscopy (STM) one can in principle investigate the surface of the material atom by atom.

I follow the footprints of the scientist backwards starting with the picture with which he ends. The researcher traces the fine tip across the silicon sample thousands of times to obtain a picture of the surface. He repeats the process many times, partly as a means to learn to use his tools, partly to be able to present an interpretation. The result is numerous "almost-identical" pictures.
There he sees differences and similarities, and from this variety he draws his conclusions. After all these trials, he has created a picture of the silicon surface on which he can base his views. The picture is sent to me. I look at it and start to ask myself questions.
Mainly I ask about the surface and what it is I can see, because I still don't know anything about the picture, where it comes from or where it is going. I read about the technique. Still the picture is intact; it is only surface. It has not yet acquired a depth, or become transformed.

I meet the scientists who have worked with the pictures, they explain to me and I recognize some of what I read before I came. Back in my studio I try my ways, draw simple forms that mainly are just replications of what I've seen.

I listen, I read, I return. The next time I meet the researchers I can see in my note-book that I misunderstood the most important of all - how the surface in question is placed inside the cubic crystal. When that surface falls into place in my thoughts and sketches I finally begin to understand the relationship between the small unit cell and the natural fracturing surface of the crystal.
Models come into shape and silicon becomes a part of my everyday life; I even dream about silicon at night. But dreams have to be translated into real models and sketches. I re-create structures and build crystals. Each form finds its material, each material its form. The information I gather by reading and asking questions builds further on the room that describes "silicon". It is a combination of incremental tests and a jumping process by which the spatial forms fall into place; I describe Silicon. The Crystal. The Surface. The Material. The Use.

The researcher move the tip over the specimen thousands of times and registers every atom and constructs a picture of the surface. Over and over again. He makes his interpretation of numerical data which I can read. From that picture he can lead me backwards in his process, since that picture exists. During that walk backwards towards what was his starting point I capture in his words the world behind the picture. It is that world I construct.
The choices of the researcher when he interprets his pictures guides my choices; the pictures in black and white - where different shades of grey shows different depths - and the greyish mirroring discs of silicon makes me interpret silicon in shades of grey. In a room.

The closer I get to my goal the more the room about silicon becomes my interpretation and the more it leaves what was the starting point for the scientist. I followed his footprints backwards for a while, but the interpretation I show is my own. I create a space which is the picture and what I have understood about the picture. I encircle it by breaking it down and building it up again, by giving it a physical shape in a physical material.

Where the researcher moves in depth I am moving around in all planes to capture silicon wherever it surfaces. I collect the material from a number of scientific "depths", compile it and make it visible in space.
You can see it.
You can be there.
Silicon is the space where you move and the shape you see.