Being an artist, I am fascinated by visual images. I can always understand a scientist's explanation better if he or she can paint me a word picture or show me an image. This is also what much of the Bible does and I'll come to this later.
I have been interested, therefore, in reading about how scientists are working out how to manipulate equipment to give them a better picture of the 3-dimensional world we live in, sometimes enabling them to visualise tiny, tiny components that are impossible for us to see with our naked eyes.
What are the three dimensions?
Mathematically, one-dimension is a straight line with length, but no width or height. If you can imagine drawing a line with a ruler, then making it thinner and thinner and thinner so it has no width at all, then you have one dimension in space. I think of the children's song: "One elephant / went out to play / out on a spider's web one day..." Compared to the elephant, the spider's web would seem close to one-dimensional.
Two dimensions is a flat surface, like a piece of paper so thin that it has no depth (height). Any drawing on that paper is 2-dimensional — the plan of a house, or a map, for example. If you have ever had something wrong with one eye which required an eye-patch, you would have been advised not to drive because you could not estimate distance or depth; one eye only gives a 2-dimensional picture. As an artist, I love grappling with the idea of fooling the viewer, so that what I draw in 2-dimensions appears to the eye as though it is an image in 3-dimensional space.
Seeing in 3-D, therefore, allows us to see what we can feel with our hands — something that has height, and length, and width. In mathematics they talk about the x-axis (horizontal), the y-axis (vertical) and the z-axis (at right angles to where you are standing, pointing directly ahead of you into the distance).
We need two eyes to see in 3-D, and those eyes need to be physically separated. This way, each eye sees a slightly different version of the image, and these are combined by nerve signals at the back of our eyes to our brain, which interprets them as a 3-D image. Now isn't that one of God's miracles?
3-D glasses work to make use of our binocular (two-eyed) vision, using different colours for each eye glass, and printing the picture or movie we are to look at as two slightly offset images, in complementary colours. When the image is viewed through the glasses and combined by our eyes and brain, the colours come out 'right'. These printing techniques are 121 years old, but recent improvements at Curtin University, Western Australia, have been made by analysing the precise spectra of the different colours to optimise the colours and light sources. This produces less 'ghosting' when the image is viewed. (www.sciencedaily.com)
One of the new-fangled processes is 3-dimensional printing, where a protocol program on the computer can 'tell' a specialised printer, primed with various plastics or glues instead of inks, to print something layer by layer by layer into a 3-D model, which is solid after the components have 'set'. One group of scientists at St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne, and the ARC Centre of Excellence ofr Electromaterials Science, Wollongong are hoping to make human tissue and 'bionic' components using a patient's own cells by 2025. This will avoid any rejection during transplantation or infection due to 'foreign' materials in the body. They are starting research on this project this month, with the installation of a 'biofabrication unit'. (au.ibtimes.com)
A duckling in the USA, named Buttercup, was born with a deformed foot: but luckily he is due to get a new prosthetic foot soon, modelled on the foot of his sister. It will be flexible silicone, and made from a mould that was printed on a 3-D printer. (www.cnet.com.au)
Viewing the ultra-small in 3-D using specialised microscopy
Since its first uses in the 1600s, initially by Anton van Leeuwenhoek in The Netherlands and Robert Hooke in England, the microscope has been used to identify all sorts of tiny, tiny things in our universe that we cannot possibly know about using only our eyes. It was not until the 1800s, after continual improvement in staining samples so that scientists could see what they were looking for against the background of the sample, that Louis Pasteur was able to work out that micro-organisms caused some diseases of humans and spoilage of food and beer. He also determined the crystal structure of two forms of tartaric acid, which was a problem in wine production at that time. (en.wikipedia.org; inventors.about.com)
In the 1930s, further inroads into observing the extremely small started with the electron microscope, which uses accelerated electrons in a vacuum instead of light, producing beams with smaller wavelengths. Scientists can now see biological molecules, and even single atoms (around one millionth of a millimetre) if they use various 'contrast' techniques to prepare the sample and show 'shadows' so that computerised enhancement makes the sample appear in 3-D. This can also be done within the very limits of light microscopes, with large enough atoms such as the 'shadows' imaged by a team at Griffith Univeristy, Queensland. (www.sciencedaily.com)
Computer-aided technology has improved recently, and can be used with any type of microscopy. Australian scientists have been part of a team to analyse the way our genome is coiled up, and they have shown that its 3-D folding is very precise, and it determines which particular genes are 'turned on' at any one time. Those sections of DNA that are looped around the outside are ignored and not made into proteins. Each of our genes is a small part of a 3-metre long DNA molecule (yes, 3 metres) called the genome that is coiled tightly inside the nucleus of each of our cells, which themselves are so small we cannot see them with the naked eye. Can you imagine how tightly this very thin strand is folded? (www.sciencedaily.com,
Uses in future computing components
But biology is not the only way in which the knowledge of 3-D structures is important. Scientists at the National Institute for Standards and Technology in the USA have used light, but in a way that enables the height of tiny structures to be determined, such as those on a computer chip circuit board. A computer is used to calculate tiny differences in brightness from conventional 2-D images taken at different positions – much like our two eyes use different images, where our 'computer' is our brain. This 3-D imaging technique has the potential to be useful in any field where an analysis of a 3-dimensional shape of tiny nano-materials is important. (www.sciencedaily.com)
Three-dimensional vision is an important gift that we humans have, and it is used as analogy in much of scripture. One of many examples is from 1 Samuel chapter 3, verse 1 (NIV): "The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions."
We should take care of this gift in several ways: look after our eyes; support scientists who extend this physical vision to using specialised equipment to see the tiny components of our world; and spiritually contemplate the "3-dimensional" visions of the Word of the Lord from various angles.
In addition, the Bible creates images through the written word that provide this 3-D image in our hearts and minds. I can think of the word images from the Garden of Eden with the conversation between Eve and Satan. Likewise, the word image of the story of Noah. Similarly, the Egyptian chariots in the Nile. Likewise, Elijah on Mt Carmel.
The New Testament too carries with it these images such as feeding the five thousand, the presentation of what happened at the Cross. Stephen stoned is another, Paul's shipwreck and numerous other illustrations. What was it that Solomon said about there being nothing new under the sun!
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html