Mr. Thomas A. Edison recently came into this office, placed a little machine on our desk, turned a crank, and the machine inquired as to our health, asked how we liked the phonograph, informed us that it was very well, and bid us a cordial good night.
So began an article in another December issue of Scientific American —one from 137 years ago, on December 22, 1877. As we welcome you to the latest edition of our annual “World Changing Ideas,” this month's cover story, I am reflecting on just how many of this magazine's issues and 160,000 articles since its founding in 1845 have documented progress in a globe-changing innovation.
Although we highlight a selection of such innovations every year, in truth every issue of Scientific American contains news about discoveries and applications that shape our world in ways large and small—from expanding our knowledge base as a species to extending and improving human lives.
You can begin exploring this year's “World Changing Ideas” with the feature article “The Gene Genie,” by Margaret Knox. And if you're in the mood for a bit more history, turn to the 50, 100 & 150 Years Ago column, compiled by Daniel C. Schlenoff, and to Steve Mirsky's lively roundup of past authors in Anti Gravity.
While we are looking back in ways that inform our understanding of what is ahead, I would also like to point you to other feature articles: “Fossil Hunting in the Milky Way,” by Kathryn V. Johnston —which concerns discoveries that are helping to shape our knowledge of galactic evolution—and “The Storm God's Tale,” by Zach Zorich, which describes a finding that is giving us new insights into the governance of the Maya people.
Indeed, after 169 years, Scientific American is still new every day, as it covers the rich ground of invention. As a 1911 issue explained: “The purpose of this journal is to record, accurately and in simple terms, the world's progress in scientific knowledge and industrial achievement. It seeks to present this information in a form so readable and easily understood, as to set forth and emphasize the inherent charm and fascination of science.” Amen to that.