Pure Science

From The New York Times:

Dog_2 The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments by George Johnson,

Beauty is truth, Keats declared, and truth beauty. Many prominent scientists have wished a version of this famous equation described their own work. The British quantum theorist Paul Dirac, for one, called his career “a search for pretty mathematics.” Most scientific aesthetes gaze fondly upon equations or arrangements of facts. A few, like the science writer George Johnson, also see beauty in the act of research. Johnson’s new book, “The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments,” is an appealing account of important scientific discoveries to which a variation of Keats applies: occasionally, beauty yields truth.

Johnson’s list is eclectic and his outlook romantic. “Science in the 21st century has become industrialized,” he states, with experiments “carried out by research teams that have grown to the size of corporations.” By contrast, Johnson (a longtime contributor to The New York Times) favors artisans of the laboratory, chronicling “those rare moments when, using the materials at hand, a curious soul figured out a way to pose a question to the universe and persisted until it replied.”

His selections include the canonical and the overlooked. The first chapter describes Galileo’s studying motion by rolling balls down an incline, often considered the founding experiment of modern science. Another chapter recounts Isaac Newton’s using prisms to grasp the nature of color. But Johnson also brings to life less familiar figures like Luigi Galvani, who illuminated the nature of electricity; Albert Michelson, who (with Edward Morley) determined the constant speed of light; and — a particularly inspired choice — Ivan Pavlov, whose famous dog experiments advanced physiology and neurology.

More here.