For books on scientific topics, it has always been quite common to use artwork on the cover that is both aesthetic and appealing and related to current trends in science, thus, to use illustrations that are, in a sense, icons of the scientific development of their time. Bee's recent post about Bacon reminded me of a wonderful example of an (in my eyes) extremely attractive book illustration which demonstrates this point: It is the frontispiece of the Instauratio Magna, the major work of Francis Bacon containing the Novum Organum, where he explains his new method for scientific investigation.
It's not a cover illustration as we know it today, since back in 1620, when it was published, books were just bound in heavy leather, and there were no book jackets. But the ships that come in from the wide, open sea of unexplored knowledge, and bring with them funny plants and animals from remote and newly discovered parts of the world are a beautiful metaphor for Bacon's' ideas at a time when British mariners started to rule the waves.
Modern tools of exploration are not any more large ships, but instead test tubes, microscopes, telescopes, space probes, and particle accelerators. And indeed, spectacular photos by the Hubble Space Telescope feature on the covers of many books on astronomy, cosmology, or even string theory. However, with the huge amount of amazing Hubble pictures, the one icon picture is missing - a role maybe best taken over by the COBE, then WMAP maps of the cosmic microwave background, as far as astrophysics and cosmology are concerned.
Here, following a severe personal bias, I want to talk a bit about two beautiful illustrations coming from particle physics - one quite old by now, but still often in use, the other more recent, and, I guess, with a huge potential for use in the near future ;-)
The first illustration shows a chaos of curved, fancy blue lines against an amber background. It comes with several degrees of changes applied to the original, and it was used recently on the covers of the Jonathan Cape edition of Not even wrong and The Scientist as Rebel by Freeman Dyson, New York Review Books (2006). The photo also features on The Particle Garden: Our Universe As Understood by Particle Physicists by Gordon Kane (Helix Books, Addison Wesley Publishing Company, Paperback, July 1996), Understanding the Universe: From Quarks to the Cosmos by Don Lincoln, (World Scientific Publishing Company, October 2004, Paperback), and the now out-of-print 1994 Canto edition of Quantum Physics: Illusion or Reality? by Alastair Rae - that's where I had seen it for the first time, as far as I remember.
There may be many more book covers where it has been used, perhaps someone knows of some other titles.
The origin of the illustration has been discussed before on Peters blog, and Peter refers to the interactions.org database.
But the original photo is from CERN, and can be found with more information and links at the CERN Document Server, cdsweb.cern.ch/record/39312. Included there is also a short list of some publications where it has been used.
As for the content, the photo shows, according to the CERN record, an artistically enhanced picture of particle tracks in the BEBC, Big European Bubble Chamber. Bubble chambers were the devices of choice for the detection of the tracks of charged particles created in all kinds of nuclear and elementary particle collisions in the 1960s and 1970s. Filled with a liquid that can be brought in an overheated state, charges particles which cross the liquid serve as the seeds where boiling set in, and thus, tracks are marked by traces of small bubbles of boiling liquid.
More background on the CERN image can be found in the August 2004 issue of the CERN Courier, with the figure caption Picture postcard: Famous postcard view of a neutrino interaction in BEBC (the Big European Bubble Chamber) filled with a neon-hydrogen mixture. Indeed, the picture was sold as a postcard at CERN when I was there for the first time in 1999 - I had sent this postcard to several friends then!
Concerning the science behind the picture, it seems that the BEBC was used mainly for neutrino experiments - the December 1998 issue of CERN courier has more about that, www.nu.to.infn.it/exp/all/bebc links some papers related to BEBC experiments, and just citing from CERN Bulletin 20/2004, which shows this photo of the installation of the BEBC:
cdsweb.cern.ch/record/41546: The vessel of the Big European Bubble Chamber, BEBC, was installed at the beginning of the 1970s. The large stainless-steel vessel, measuring 3.7 meters in diameter and 4 metres in height, was filled with 35 cubic metres of liquid (hydrogen, deuterium or a neon-hydrogen mixture), whose sensitivity was regulated by means of a huge piston weighing 2 tonnes. During each expansion, the trajectories of the charged particles were marked by a trail of bubbles, where liquid reached boiling point as they passed through it. The first images were recorded in 1973 when BEBC, equipped with the largest superconducting magnet in service at the time, first received beam from the PS. In 1977, the bubble chamber was exposed to neutrino and hadron beams at higher energies of up to 450 GeV after the SPS came into operation. By the end of its active life in 1984, BEBC had delivered a total of 6.3 million photographs to 22 experiments devoted to neutrino or hadron physics. Around 600 scientists from some fifty laboratories throughout the world had taken part in analysing the 3000 km of film it had produced.
The BEBC is now on display on a lawn near the CERN cafeteria, where it looks like some alien spaceship ;-)...
cdsweb.cern.ch/record/41091: Group of belgian physics teachers in front of BEBC bubble chamber, in March 2000
Bubble chambers, like emulsion film techniques or similar methods to record tracks of particles, have one big disadvantage: events are fixed on film, and to do a physics analysis, thousands of photos have to be checked "by hand". This is a very tedious job, which often was done by women "scanners".
LBNL Image Database 96602983: Operator, Barbara Srulovitz, maps particle tracks with Alvarez Scanning and Measuring Projector.
In a sense, the huge BEBC was a kind of dinosaur, the end point and culmination of this type of detection device. For an automized analysis using electronic computers, it would have been nice to have complete information on all particle tracks available in some electronic form. That's what can be achieved with wire chambers, or, a widely used variety of these kinds of detectors, time projection chambers (TPCs).
A time projection chamber is a large chamber filled with gas. High-energy charged particles emerging from a collision event will ionize this gas along their paths, leaving behind tracks of electrically charged gas molecules. The whole TPC is subject to a homogenous electric field, which moves the pattern of tracks drawn in electrically charged gas molecules towards small-meshed grids of wires. There, the ionized gas molecules create electrical signals, and from the location of the wires which are triggered and the time delay between the collision and the detection at the wire (which is the time the ionized gas molecules need to drift from the position of the track to the detector wire), it is possible to reconstruct the complete three-dimensional pattern of all tracks of charged particles emerging from the original collision. TPCs are now in use since more than 25 years and are a central component of many particle physics experiments. I am not an experimentalist, so I have no inside view of all the complexities and difficulties which are part of this data gathering process. But I am amazed that it is possible to reconstruct particle tracks with a spatial resolution below one millimeter, using state-of-the art TPCs!
In collider experiments, such as at RHIC, TPCs are large cylindrical chambers, with the central axis of the cylinder coinciding with the beam axis and the collision point at the centre of the chamber. A TPC is the main detecting device of the STAR experiment, the Solenoidal Tracker at RHIC. This photo, which is part of a series of photos provided by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, shows the TPC of STAR.
It was with data from the TPC of STAR that this graphical representation of one of the first gold-gold collisions at RHIC was created in June 2000.
The graphics shows the projection of the tracks of electrically charged particles emerging from the gold-gold collision. There are in the order of 3000 charged particles emerging from central collisions, and the radial motion of these particles is displayed in the figure.
The analysis of the radial motion of all the particles produced in a heavy-ion collision provides such observables as the elliptic flow, which describes the deviation of the pattern of motion from perfect radial symmetry for non-central collisions, and which allows to estimate the viscosity of the hot and dense nuclear matter created in the collision.
But this is a second step of the analysis: First, the tracks, and momenta, of as many particles as possible have to be determined. These tracks make up the wonderful picture from STAR, with its striking resemblance to the iris of an human eye. It shows a central part of the science of heavy-ion physics in an eye-catching way, and features in many talks and articles about heavy-ion physics. This STAR picture has become kind of an icon of heavy-ion physics.
Which brings me back to my initial topic of the book covers: The RHIC "iris" of the STAR-TPC has made it, as far I could see, on the covers of The QCD Vacuum, Hadrons and Superdense Matter by Edward V. Shuryak, (World Scientific, 2nd edition, 2004), Alpha and Omega: The Search for the Beginning and End of the Universe by Charles Seife (Viking, 2003), and Quark Gluon Plasma 3 edited by Rudolph C. Hwa, and comment writer X. N. Wang (World Scientific, 2004)
But considering the dark and mysterious appeal of this photo, my guess is that we will see it more often on book covers of future, new releases.
TAGS: Physics, RHIC, Particle Detectors, Book Covers