January 28, 2022, by Brigitte Nerlich

Chris Toumey (1949-2022)

Chris Robinson has just told me the sad news that Chris Toumey (a cultural anthropologist who worked at the University of South Carolina) has died very suddenly. Chris was a kindred spirit and a fantastic science communicator. So, instead of writing an obituary, I’ll tell you a little personal story about engagement, energy, enthusiasm and encounters. (You can find his official obituary here)


In the early 2000’s I became fascinated by how real and fictional images of nanoscale objects were used to create visions of nanoscience and nanotechnology. In 2005, the centenary of Jules Verne’s death, I published an article on nano-images in the journal AzoNano, focusing in particular on nano-submarines and fantastic voyage imagery.

At the same time I began to correspond with other people interested in nano-images, such as Chris Toumey, a cultural anthropologist who had begun to think and fwrite about these matters well before me and was always willing to share his expertise with me.

In the years that followed we met at various conferences and became part of a circle of colleagues, organized by Rasmus Slaattelid (University of Bergen) interested in nano-images and the aesthetic, ethical and epistemic issues associated with their use.

I also came to know Chris’s friend Chris Robinson (University of South Carolina Beaufort). He is a visual artist who is interested in the role and meaning of science and technology in contemporary culture and how it assists in, and influences, decision-making.

After meeting in various places, such as Montreal, Paris and Darmstadt, we all met up for a workshop funded by the Centre for Advanced Studies here at the University Nottingham in 2010. We then successfully applied for a European Science Foundation grant together with Andrew Balmer (now University of Manchester) and Annamaria Carusi (now University of Sheffield), which allowed us to convene an international conference on ‘Images and visualisation: Imaging technology, truth and trust’ at Norrköping in Sweden in 2012.

We later published a selection of papers that emerged from this conference as a special issue for Leonardo, a peer-reviewed academic journal published by the MIT Press and covering the application of contemporary science and technology to the arts and music. This package of articles is entitled ‘Technologies of Scientific Visualization’ and was edited by Chris Toumey, Chris Robinson and me, but it would never have seen the light without Chris’s enthusiasm and perseverance. It contains an article by Phil Moriarty (University of Nottingham) on “Visualising the ‘Invisible’” – Phil and Chris had met in 2010.

After that we waned to meet up again sometime somewhere, but that was not to be.

Instead, I cajoled Chris into writing some posts for this blog, the most recent one on covid and colour.

The Vertical rod at the centre of the DNA molecule
Is STS trivial: Chris Toumey reflects on writing a book about nanotech and the humanities
Comments on qualitative methods in the humanities and social sciences
Notes on the colour [colour] of protein spikes on the Covid-19 virus.

But if you want to savour some of his real science communication, please dip into his wonderful commentaries on nanoscience and nano-images for Nature Nanotechnology which he penned between 2006 and 2020.

Chris was a great colleague and the kindest friend. I shall miss him.

Image: C60 – Chris’s favourite molecule, I think (I didn’t have copyright for images of Chris himself)



Posted in Personal Reflection