cover of book

Molecular Capture: The Animation of Biology
by Adam Nocek
University of Minnesota Press, 2021
Paper: 978-1-5179-1034-1 | Cloth: 978-1-5179-1033-4
Library of Congress Classification QH324.2
Dewey Decimal Classification 570.285


How computer animation technologies became vital visualization tools in the life sciences

Who would have thought that computer animation technologies developed in the second half of the twentieth century would become essential visualization tools in today’s biosciences? This book is the first to examine this phenomenon. Molecular Capture reveals how popular media consumption and biological knowledge production have converged in molecular animations—computer simulations of molecular and cellular processes that immerse viewers in the temporal unfolding of molecular worlds—to produce new regimes of seeing and knowing.

Situating the development of this technology within an evolving field of historical, epistemological, and political negotiations, Adam Nocek argues that molecular animations not only represent a key transformation in the visual knowledge practices of life scientists but also bring into sharp focus fundamental mutations in power within neoliberal capitalism. In particular, he reveals how the convergence of the visual economies of science and entertainment in molecular animations extends neoliberal modes of governance to the perceptual practices of scientific subjects. Drawing on Alfred North Whitehead’s speculative metaphysics and Michel Foucault’s genealogy of governmentality, Nocek builds a media philosophy well equipped to examine the unique coordination of media cultures in this undertheorized form of scientific media. More specifically, he demonstrates how governmentality operates across visual practices in the biosciences and the popular mediasphere to shape a molecular animation apparatus that unites scientific knowledge and entertainment culture.

Ultimately, Molecular Capture proposes that molecular animation is an achievement of governmental design. It weaves together speculative media philosophy, science and technology studies, and design theory to investigate how scientific knowledge practices are designed through media apparatuses.

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