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Curtin University
Collaborative Research in Art, Science and Humanity

detail of artworks by Susanna Castleden

Dr Colin Milburn Visiting Humanities Scholar (2010)


Colin Milburn is a professor of English and a member of the Science & Technology Studies Program at the University of California, Davis. His research focuses on the cultural relations between literature, science, and technology. His interests include science fiction; gothic horror; the history of biology; the history of physics; comic books, film, gaming, virtual worlds and new media; nanotechnology; and posthumanism. Having been trained as a historian of science, a literary theorist, and a molecular biologist, he is particularly interested in the ways that laboratory research and popular media influence each other.  He has written about the social imagination of nanotechnology in his book Nanovision: Engineering the Future (Duke University Press, 2008).

Nanovision: Engineering the Future by Colin Milburn

"There has been so much hype and controversy surrounding nanotech that it has been hard to figure out what it really is or might become. This wonderful book spectacularly clarifies matters, providing the new field with its history and with a paradigm that allows us to judge its present situation and whatever future may emerge. That Colin Milburn is also often wickedly funny is much appreciated, and a very appropriate response to nanotech's constant evocations of paradise or apocalypse." Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the Mars Trilogy

He is currently completing a new book about the convergence of video games and the molecular sciences, entitled Mondo Nano: Fun and Games in the World of Digital Matter. Colin Milburn joined the UC Davis faculty in 2005. He is also affiliated with the programs in Cultural Studies, Film Studies, and Critical Theory.

Dr Colin Milburn UC Davis

Keynote: Tempest in a Teapot: Nanotechnology at Play

at the art in the age of nanotechnology symposium strange futures: collaborations that make nano-art
Location: John Curtin Art Gallery, Curtin University
Date and time of symposium: 9:45 to 4:00 Sunday 7 February

Popular mythology imagines the nano laboratory as a kind of island, an insular space in which dreams become reality. This talk will voyage between various nano labs both real and fictional (and a few somewhere in between) to show how the metaphorical shaping of laboratory space transforms the content of scientific research. By examining the proliferation of islands inside the nano lab (for example, in studies of “nano-island lithography” and “nano-island  dynamics”), we will begin to see how the long cultural history of scientific islands situates the laboratory experiment as a mode of play. In this manner, the idealized insularity of the laboratory becomes the very condition for productive exchanges between science and culture, experiment and fantasy …or indeed, nanotechnology and art.

Talk: Molecular Toys

Location: School of Design and Art, Room 203:101 Curtin University
Date and time: 12:15 –1:15 Thursday 11 February

In the molecular sciences today, projects to design and engineer functional molecular machines have been widely characterized by playfulness, whimsy, and humorous tinkering. This talk will examine the history of toy culture in the molecular sciences, focusing on three case studies that illustrate the conceptual breakthroughs and futuristic visions newly animated by the hands-on construction of nanoscale playthings.

Talk: Nanocity and the Globalisation of Speculative Science

Location: SymbioticA - The Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts, Room 228, Level 2, School of Anatomy and Human Biology, The University of Western Australia
Date and time: 3:30 pm Friday 12 February

In 2006, Sabeer Bhatia, the co-founder of the Hotmail Corporation, announced an ambitious plan to build a futuristic city on 11,000 acres of farmland in northern India. Dubbed “Nanocity,” the imagined urban centre would be a rationally designed infrastructure for the support and cultivation of cutting-edge technosciences: a massive, self-contained engine of high-tech knowledge production. As a kind of calculated improvement on Silicon Valley, which opened up the age of computation, Nanocity aspires to open up the age of nano. Just as silicon was the "substrate of the '60s," Bhatia says, the future now lies in nanotechnology: "Nanotechnology sits at the confluence of a number of areas of research, not just computing... It's material science, biotechnology, pharmaceutical research and nanotechnology itself." To be sure, Nanocity is a fiction, a dream—at least for the moment. For even though the groundwork is already underway for the multi-billion-dollar project, in every meaningful way Nanocity is built on nothing but the logic of scientific speculation. This talk will examine Nanocity as a speculative media object: a bundle of design diagrams, digital media, publicity statements, financial plans, research proposals, and scientific promises. In this way, the talk will take up a theoretical discussion of citizenship and everyday life in a time when speculative urbanism, speculative fiction, and speculative science converge and become indistinguishable—a mode of being in the world that we might call “nanopolitanism.”

Workshop: The Posthumanities: New Adventures in Interdisciplinarity

Other Publications:

Digital Matters: Video Games and the Cultural Transcoding of Nanotechnology, in Governing Future Technologies: Nanotechnology and the Rise of an Assessment Regime, Eds. Mario Kaiser, Monika Kurath, Sabine Maasen, and Christoph Rehmann-Sutter (Springer, 2009).
Atoms and Avatars: Virtual Worlds as Massively-Multiplayer Laboratories, Spontaneous Generations 2, no. 1 (2008): 63-89.Download
Science from Hell: Jack the Ripper and Victorian Vivisection, in Science Images and Popular Images of the Sciences, Eds. Bernd Huppauf and Peter Weingart (Routledge, 2007), pp. 125-158. Download
Translated and updated as Wissenschaft aus der Hölle: Jack the Ripper und die viktorianische Vivisektion, trans. Verena Hutter, in Frosch und Frankenstein: Bilder in und über Wissenschaft—Popularisierungen und Mythenbildung, Eds. Peter Weingart and Bernd Huppauf (Transcript, 2008).
Nanowarriors: Military Nanotechnology and Comic Books, Intertexts 9, no. 1 (2005): 77-103. Download
Nano/Splatter: Disintegrating the Postbiological Body, New Literary History 36 (2005): 285-311.
Syphilis in Faerie Land: Edmund Spenser and the Syphilography of Elizabethan England, Criticism 46 (2004): 396-632. Download
Monsters in Eden: Darwin and Derrida, MLN 118 (2003): 603-621.
Nanotechnology in the Age of Posthuman Engineering: Science Fiction as Science, Configurations 10 (2002): 262-295.
Republished in N. Katherine Hayles, ed., Nanoculture: Implications of the New Technoscience (Intellect Books, 2004), pp. 109-129.
Republished in The Cybercultures Reader, 2nd edition, Eds. Barbara Kennedy and David Bell (Routledge, 2007), pp. 730-758.