What makes science beautiful?

In his book, The Science Delusion, Curtis White criticizes scientists for throwing around the term "beautiful" without really asking what, exactly, makes science beautiful ... or what beauty even means in the context of science. I got to interview White last night, and will be posting the audio from that interview soon. But this is one of the points in the book that I thought was rather unfair. How did White know that this isn't something scientists have thought about? He never really said.

So, I turned to Twitter, asking scientists, science writers, and science fans about what made science beautiful to them. I got a really nice variety of answers and wanted to share some of my favorites — you can read them in this Storify.

Image: VISTA's infrared view of the Orion Nebula, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from esoastronomy's photostream

Beautiful jellyfish photography

Alexander Semenov's lovely photos make jellyfish look completely amazing—masses of ethereal tissue surrounded by thousands of strands of iridescent embroidery floss.

This shot is part of a series of photos taken in the deep, dark, cold waters of the Arctic Circle.

Via David Ng

Cool ceramic jewelry for scientists, skeptics, and fossil lovers

A friend pointed me today toward the awesome work of Surly Amy (aka Amy Davis Roth), who makes really neat ceramic jewelry with science/skeptic themes. Some of her pieces are really simple and not super artsy—a pendant that says "This is what an atheist looks like", for instance. That's fine, but it's not the stuff I'm super excited about.

Instead, I really dig Roth's work that focuses on archaeology and paleontology—like a necklace printed with the silhouette of an archaeopteryx fossil on a crackled background that makes me think of broken stone; earrings decorated with ammonites; and a kick-ass bracelet that manages to make trilobites look just a little punk rock.

I also enjoyed reading Roth's bio on her Etsy page. It's long, but the two key takeaways are great:

1. I'm not as surly as I used to be.
2. Life is hard and it often sucks but sometimes, if you keep trying, things will get better!

Surly-Ramics wearable art

A photo of a photo of Soyuz

NASA's Image of the Day is always awesome, but I particularly love this image from behind-the-scenes of the Pretty Space Photography Industrial Complex.

The Soyuz rocket is seen in the monitor of a video camera moments before Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka and flight engineers Joseph Acaba and Sergei Revin arrived to board the rocket at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for their flight to join their crew mates already aboard the International Space Station. The craft successfully launched at 11:01 p.m. EDT, Monday, May 14, 2012.

Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Via Colin Schultz

By the light of the super full moon

This photo was taken last March 19 in Cordoba, Spain. Photographer Paco Bellido captured a particularly special full moon—it appeared larger than any full moon had in 20 years. NASA explains:

Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon's orbit. It is an ellipse with one side (perigee) about 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other (apogee). Nearby perigee moons are about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than lesser moons that occur on the apogee side of the Moon's orbit. The full Moon of March 19th occurs less than one hour away from perigee--a near-perfect coincidence1 that happens only 18 years or so.

Via Catherine Laplace-Builhe

Spider in the grass

This amazing photo, by Cambridge biological sciences professor John H. Brackenbury, is a highly-commended runner up in the British Wildlife Photography Awards.

Via Alex Wild, who thinks Brackenbury was robbed of first place. Can't say I disagree.

What makes us worth defending

Senator John Pastore: “Is there anything connected with the hopes of this accelerator that in any way involves the security of the country?”

Physicist Robert Rathburn Wilson: “No sir, I don’t believe so.”

Pastore: “Nothing at all?”

Wilson: “Nothing at all.”

Pastore: “It has no value in that respect?”

Wilson: “It has only to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of man, our love of culture. It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending.”

— From the testimony of Robert Rathburn Wilson before the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, 1969. As quoted in a lovely memorial to Wilson and the Fermi National Laboratory's Tevatron by science blogger Jennifer Ouellette

The Tevatron is set for shutdown on September 30. The point here, I think, is not that the Tevatron, specifically, must be kept alive at all costs. But rather that the willingness to fund curiosity-driven research is one of our better angels. Humanity benefits from knowledge, even if that knowledge doesn't immediately and directly lead to cool gadgets, bigger bombs, or a cure for cancer. And it benefits the United States to be the sort of place that contributes to the betterment of humanity.

Science shot of the day

"Boom! Blood stem cells generated from skin cells." — From the Google+ feed of Erik Westin, post-doctoral fellow at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Beautiful paintings of neurons

That's no dandelion. It's a painted close-up of a slice of human hippocampus. Jessica Palmer at the Bioephemera blog introduced me to the gorgeous artwork of neuroscience grad student and painter Greg Dunn. His images of different neurons are really lovely. And you can buy prints.

Via Elizabeth Sears

When leopard slugs make love

In journalism school, one of the things we learn to never do is start a story by asking readers a question that they could answer with a firm, "No." There's just no point in risking disengaging your readers before they even have a chance to become engaged. On the other hand, if you follow this rule strictly, then you never get a chance to write a sentence like this one, from Koen De Paus on Google+:

"Have you ever wondered how slugs get it on?"

What I like about BoingBoing's readers is that I KNOW the majority of you are at least tentatively answering, "Yeeeesss? Maybe?" If so, De Paus says, this video is for you.

Fact: The mating of the leopard slug is surprisingly tender and sensual. It is also, however, exactly as slimy as you might expect.

Video Link

Beautiful video combines art and magnetism

Filmmaker Kim Pimmel combined ferrofluids, a magnet, soap bubbles, and dye to create this mesmerizing short video. Science + art = awesomesauce.

Video Link

Thanks, Brian Thomas!

Poignant short film about the death of a dragonfly

When filmmaker Paul Kroeker found a dragonfly dying on his deck, he turned the animal's final moments into a beautiful and haunting short movie. Who says insects can't be charismatic fauna?

(Via John Pavlus)