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So Big!

David Schoonmaker

Click to Enlarge ImageThe Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN depicted on this issue’s cover is a monument to human ingenuity—and not just for what it may be able to tell us. It astounds me in a number of different ways. Perhaps foremost, the techno-twit in me wonders at the feat of actually getting something so complicated to work. And the photographer in me would love to tag along with the CERN crew when they capture images of something so immense. The sheer scale of it is difficult to contemplate. But particle physics hasn’t always been thus. As physicist and writer Jeremy Bernstein explains in “A Palette of Particles” (pages 146–155), over the course of little more than a century, the physics of the atom went from the tabletop inquiries of Ernest Rutherford to the 27-kilometer-circumference LHC, which spans the Swiss–French border. It’s almost as if the smaller the object we seek, the larger the tool we need.

Roald Hoffmann is looking for the elusive in this issue as well. In his ironically titled Marginalia, “Long Live the Intermediate!” (pages 116–119), he extols the virtues of the exceedingly fleeting reaction intermediates that enable catalysis. Sometimes, though, the rare offers both intrigue and a different sort of value. Lee A. Groat explores the deep space where chemistry and pressure combine to form objects of beauty. “Gemstones” (pages 128–137) describes the conditions necessary to form precious stones, from diamonds to jade.

Yes, those pieces present a generous dose of physical science, but that’s far from all the issue has to offer. Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci delve into why women are less likely than men to pursue academic careers in the sciences, particularly the physical sciences. The conclusions they reach in “When Scientists Choose Motherhood” (pages 138–145) don’t entirely jibe with the traditional explanations. Moreover, armed with possible answers, they offer suggestions for rectifying the situation. And in Sightings, Catherine Clabby discusses a protein-interaction map for Drosophila melanogaster with Harvard investigator Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas.

The issue also manages to bridge the gap between technology and furry critters. Pets are a frequent topic of conversation around the American Scientist coffee maker, which says a mouthful about our demographic: mostly too old to still have babies, mostly too young to have grandbabies—yet. Still, this is the first time I can recall a pet starring in the magazine. Once you meet Henry Petroski’s cat, Ted, in his “Engineering” column (pages 112–115), however, I think you’ll agree that the role is richly deserved.

We also continue our look back into the magazine’s 100-year history. Over the past 40 years in particular, if one were to cite a single thing that American Scientist has been best known for, it would have to be depicting scientific and engineering concepts through illustration. As we began the task of picking out a representative sample, however, we realized we couldn’t hope to do that heritage real justice. What you will find on pages 124–127, then, is simply an attempt to show the range of what our artists have taken on.

Also on the heritage front, we have reproduced an essay by G. Evelyn Hutchinson, who wrote his first “Marginalia” in 1942. The particular example we have chosen (pages 158–161) is from his last year as author of the column, 1954. It is a testimony to the weight of his work that the controversy he describes wasn’t resolved for nearly 50 years. His wit and insight continue to inspire.

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