Picturing Science and Engineering
by Felice C. Frankel.
MIT Press, 2018 ($39.95).
While on a fellowship at Harvard University, photographer Frankel audited a course by chemist George Whitesides. She was captivated by pictures from his laboratory—but knew she could do better. She continued to hone her skills and has spent her career making striking images that have been featured on many notable journal covers. This beautiful and engaging book is her latest practical guide to help other scientists use their creativity and basic lab tools (even the seemingly prosaic flatbed scanner) to create standout visualizations of their work and research subjects. “I am convinced,” she writes, “that smart, accessible, and compelling representations of science can be doors through which others can enter.”
The Second Kind of Impossible: The Extraordinary Quest for a New Form of Matter
by Paul J. Steinhardt.
Simon & Schuster, 2019 ($27).
“Quasicrystals” are a kind of matter that should not exist—they break centuries-old rules about how atoms can arrange into solids. Unlike regular crystals, whose atoms assemble in repeating patterns, quasicrystal particles are ordered but not periodic—their arrangements never repeat. In 1984 physicist Steinhardt predicted quasicrystals with a graduate student; independently that same year, chemists announced they had discovered them in a lab. Steinhardt tells the story behind his theory—a crazy math caper that includes a reclusive amateur genius, the “golden ratio” and even an old Scientific American column that plays a crucial role in his breakthrough. The tale culminates in a trek to a remote Russian peninsula in search of quasicrystals in the wild. —Clara Moskowitz
The Inflamed Mind: A Radical New Approach to Depression
by Edward Bullmore.
Picador, 2018 ($28)
The development of new antidepressant drugs has stalled. Many efforts to discover novel treatments for depression have only led to dead ends. In 2010 professor of psychiatry Bullmore witnessed this failure when the pharmaceutical giant he worked for suddenly stopped all ongoing projects on mental health. “I was a 50-year-old psychiatrist working for a company that didn’t want to do psychiatry any more,” he writes. But in recent years scientists have spotted signs of hope for what seemed to be a barren research field. The immune system, not the brain, they say, is where the root causes of depression can be found. Bullmore draws from the latest research and his own experiences to defend the heretic idea that the link between brain inflammation and depression could revolutionize the way we understand, and maybe treat, disorders of the mind.—Emiliano Rodríguez Mega
The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread
by Cailin O’Connor and James Owen Weatherall.
Yale University Press, 2019 ($26)
Sharing information and influencing one another’s beliefs are partly what makes humans special. Of course, not all information that gets shared is factual. In fact, some false information has particularly strong spreading power—an unavoidable element of the human condition, write O’Connor and Weatherall, an associate professor and a professor, respectively, of logic and philosophy of science. The two deftly apply sociological models to examine how misinformation spreads among people and how scientific results get misrepresented in the public sphere. They offer scientific case studies—the discovery that CFCs were responsible for the ozone hole in the 1980s, for example—to explore the question of what constitutes truth and to consider the role that information plays in a healthy democracy.