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See Inside September 2009

Starter Menu--The Origins of the Origins Issue

Acting Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina explains the September 2009 issue of Scientific American



Bryan Christie Design

The editors at Scientific American always look forward to creating our annual single-topic issues. These special editions give us the opportunity to more fully explore an area that is of deep scientific and public interest and to share that comprehensive package with you.

About a year ago, when the editorial board first began discussing possibilities for the issue you now hold in your hands, we decided to harness our ambitions in a different way. Instead of narrowly focusing on one subject, we would think more expansively. We settled on an all-encompassing topic that would provide the intellectual charge we sought but also would be fun. We decided to probe some of the most profound questions that humans ask about our existence, such as, Where did everything we see in the universe today come from? How did life begin? What led to the remarkable sophistication of the human mind? We knew we would want to provide in-depth feature articles on key topics in technology and in the physical and life sciences. To round out the issue, we also wanted to take on a few dozen other intellectual puzzles—from the origins of the paper clip to the placenta to paper money—in shorter pieces.

We dedicated extra pages to this issue to encompass the span of our questions, but it still was difficult to winnow our wish lists to what could be accommodated in print. Naturally, more short stories and other items of interest are available here. For now, click here for the start of “Origins”—we hope you will find it candy for the curious mind. 

In an issue focused on beginnings, it also seems appropriate to inaugurate a set of improvements to Scientific American’s pages. We’ve tightened the design of the table of contents, to make it easier to find what you are looking for in each issue. We have organized the popular News Scan department by topic; the adjusted layouts are easier to navigate, and the stories will continue to provide the concise analyses of news that you have come to expect.

A new columnist’s pointed commentary will also sharpen the offerings in the front of the magazine. Lawrence M. Krauss, an astrophysicist, social critic and best-selling author of The Physics of Star Trek and other books, brings a scientist’s perspective and practice of rational analysis to matters of broad scientific and policy concern. Fittingly, his first installment examines the unrealized vision of C. P. Snow, who 50 years ago wrote his famous “Two Cultures” essay. Snow noted the distressing cultural divide between science and the arts and hoped for a future that would bridge the two. We share that hope.

Last, Anti Gravity moves to a featured position as the back page, where Steve Mirsky’s wry prose adds an entertaining punctuation mark to each issue; flip the pages to find his look at Kindle’s foibles.

As always, we welcome your feedback.

Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Starter Menu."

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