What Makes a Baby: A Playful Illustrated Primer for Every Kind of Family and Every Kind of Kid

An inclusive and imaginative take on reproduction. Benjamin Franklin’s oft-cited proclamation that nothing in the world is certain except death and taxes omits another existential inevitability, and arguably one no less pleasant — the question every parent dreads and no parent ever escapes: where do babies come from? After illustrator Sophie Blackall’s sweet and honest...

Jane Goodall Answers the Proust Questionnaire

A dead writer meets one of the greatest scientists alive. A century before today’s popular personality quizzes, Victorian “confession albums” served essentially the same role, presenting a series of simple questions designed to reveal the respondent’s sensibility and aspirations. In the 1880s, teenage Marcel Proust was given one such questionnaire by his friend Antoinette, the...

Ordering the Heavens: How Johannes Hevelius, the Last and Greatest of the Naked-Eye Astronomers, Cataloged the Stars

How a visionary manuscript, completed by the first female astronomer of the Western world, survived three fires to become a beacon of scientific dedication. On September 26, 1679, a fierce fire consumed the Stellaburgum — Europe’s finest observatory, built by the pioneering astronomer Johannes Hevelius in the city of Danzig, present-day Poland, decades before the...

Art & Physics: Leonard Shlain on Integrating Wonder and Wisdom

“Art and physics, like wave and particle, are an integrated duality … two different but complementary facets of a single description of the world.” “It’s part of the nature of man,” Ray Bradbury told Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke as they peered into the future of space exploration, “to start with romance and build...

Parrots Over Puerto Rico: An Illustrated Children’s Book Celebrating the Spirit of Conservation

The heartening story of one of Earth’s most beautiful bird species, an underdog of geopolitics and evolution. Most children’s books are full of animals — as protagonists, as pets, as age-old standbys in fairy tales and alphabet primers alike. But, as Jon Mooallem poignantly observed in his bittersweet love letter to wildlife, by the time...

Astronomer Jill Tarter on the Ongoing Search for Extraterrestrial Life and How She Inspired Carl Sagan’s Novel-Turned-Film Contact

The importance of playing the long game in life, be it extraterrestrial or earthly. Astronomer Jill Tarter grew up taking apart and reassembling her father’s radios. She is the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research — California’s institute of Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — and the inspiration for Jodie Foster’s character in the iconic...

The Universe, “Branes,” and the Science of Multiple Dimensions

How a needle, a shower curtain, and a New England clam explain the possibility of parallel universes. “The mystery of being is a permanent mystery,” John Updike once observed in pondering why the universe exists, and yet of equal permanence is the allure this mystery exerts upon the scientists, philosophers, and artists of any given...

The Science of Dust, Picasso’s Favorite Phenomenon

“With every breath, we inhale a bit of the story of our universe, our planet’s past and future…” It takes more than three centuries for a one-foot layer of dust to accumulate. The entirety of the Roman Empire is buried nine feet underground — that is, under nine feet of tightly compacted dust. This household...

The Relationship Between Creativity and Mental Illness

The science behind the “tortured genius” myth and what it reveals about how the creative mind actually works. “I think I’ve only spent about ten percent of my energies on writing,” Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Katherine Anne Porter confessed in a 1963 interview. “The other ninety percent went to keeping my head above water.” While art...

July 18, 1992: The First Photo Uploaded to the Web, of CERN’s All-Girl Science Rock Band

Love and science set to song, from quarks to colliders. In 1990, shortly before a CERN physicist subverted gender and science stereotypes by adapting Alice in Wonderland as an allegory in quantum mechanics, a different type of delightful subversion was afoot at the famed European Organization for Nuclear Research, now home to the Large Hadron...

The Book of Trees: 800 Years of Visualizing Science, Religion, and Knowledge in Symbolic Diagrams

How the humble tree became our most powerful visual metaphor for organizing information and distilling our understanding of the world. Why is it that when we behold the oldest living trees in the world, primeval awe runs down our spine? We are entwined with trees in an elemental embrace, both biological and symbolic, depending on...

A Brief History of How Bees Sexed Up Earth and Gave Flowers Their Colors

How a striped, winged, six-legged love machine sparked “the longest marketing campaign in history.” The great E.O. Wilson is credited with having once said, “If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would...

Beloved British Artist Ralph Steadman Illustrates the Life of Leonardo da Vinci

A visual “autobiography” of the legendary polymath that grants equal dignity to the grit and the glory. Freud once observed that the great Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci was “like a man who awoke too early in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep.” And how blazingly awake he was — his Vitruvian...

30 Days of “Quantum Poetry” Celebrating the Glory of Science

From black holes to DNA to butterfly metamorphosis, bewitching verses on the magic of nature. “The ideal scientist thinks like a poet and works like a bookkeeper,” the influential biologist E.O. Wilson said in his spectacular recent conversation with the former Poet Laureate Robert Hass, exploring the shared creative wellspring of poetry and science. A...

Visionary Neurologist Oliver Sacks on What Hallucinations Reveal about How the Mind Works

“We see with the eyes, but we see with the brain as well.” While our delusions may keep us sane, hallucinations — defined as perceptions that arise independently of external reality, as when we see, hear, or sense things that aren’t really there — are an entirely different beast, a cognitive phenomenon that mimics mysticism...

The Science of Mental Time Travel: Memory and How Our Ability to Imagine the Future Made Us Human

Shedding light on “the cognitive rudder that allows our brains to navigate the river of time.” Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland remains one of my all-time favorite books, largely because Carroll taps his training as a logician to imbue the whimsical story with an allegorical dimension that blends the poetic with the philosophical. To wit:...

Alan Watts on the Difference Between Belief and Faith

How to master the delicate dance of unconditional openness to the truth. A century and a half before Carl Sagan explored the relationship between science and religion, Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, contemplated the subject in a beautiful letter. Two centuries later, Alan Lightman crafted an enchanting definition of secular spirituality. This question...

A Brief History of Glass and How It Planted the Seed for the Innovation Gap Between the East and West

“The material world is not just a display of our technology and culture, it is part of us. We invented it, we made it, and in turn it makes us who we are.” By 1950, Picasso was already an artist world-renowned for his creative products — paintings, sculptures, bronze casts — but only those in...

Rethinking the Placebo Effect: How Our Minds Actually Affect Our Bodies

The startling physiological effects of loneliness, optimism, and meditation. In 2013, Neil deGrasse Tyson hosted a mind-bending debate on the nature of “nothing” — an inquiry that has occupied thinkers since the dawn of recorded thought and permeates everything from Hamlet’s iconic question to the boldest frontiers of quantum physics. That’s precisely what New Scientist...

Leonardo da Vinci’s Life and Legacy, in a Vintage Pop-Up Book

The legacy of the great artist, inventor, and scientist in illustrated “interactive” paper engineering that would’ve made Leonardo himself nod with delight. As a lover of pop-up books, a celebrator of the intersection of art and science, and a great admirer of the vintage children’s book illustration of wife-and-husband duo Alice and Martin Provensen, I...