The Art of Science: Tagny Duff’s Cryobooks

From The Cryobook Archives, Tagny Duff, 2008-11

From The Cryobook Archives, Tagny Duff, 2008-11

The internet was all a-squeal this week over the revelation that Harvard University’s libraries house a number of books bound in human skin. (Actually, the news that launched a thousand blogposts was that a Harvard-owned volume alleged to be bound in “all that remains of my dear friende Jonas Wright, who was flayed alive by the Wavuma” was, in fact, bound in sheepskin. ) Horrified and delighted, journalists gleefully explained that “anthropodermic bibliopegy” was once a thing, way back in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Well, it’s still a thing. Canadian artist Tagny Duff undertook a project from 2008-2011 called The Cryobook Archives, in which she used human and animal skin and modern biotechnology to grow “living” covers for handmade books. Duff even used a sort of ink made from a lentivirus to make designs on the book covers, which she displayed in a custom-built cryogenic freezer unit.

Duff explains that her cryobooks, which use skin cells donated by surgical patients and are stitched with surgical suture, are a way of reclaiming knowledge from its disembodied, electronic form.  “We often overlook the fact that information is created from physical bodies” through the study of anatomy and biology.

I’m not sure Harvard’s libraries would be interested in these particular skin-covered tomes. For all the years of study and preparation that went into creating their covers, these books are blank.

Duff blogged extensively about The Cryobook Archives here. You can watch a video of her presenting the work at Dublin’s Science Gallery here.

Map update: astronomy and permafrost edition

I’ve added a few blog posts by other people to our ever-expanding science travel map.

1. Edmond Halley memorial at Westminster Abbey. There are a lot of scientist graves and memorials at Westminster Abbey in London, but Edmond Halley’s comet-shaped memorial is in a lovely spot, away from the crowded sections. Matt Brown wrote about it a few years ago on the now defunct (archived) London Blog for Nature Network.

Tycho2. Tycho Brahe’s observatory on the island of Hven. Heather Frizzell has been writing science tourist posts on her own blog, The Science Tourist. In one post, she describes a visit to the island of Hven, between Denmark and Sweden, where she visited Tycho Brahe’s 16th century observatory.

3. Field work in Siberia. The Polaris Project studies climate change in the Siberian arctic region, and graduate students on the project keep blogs on the site. We added a post by Kelsey Dowdy to the map, which describes permafrost sample collection.

Continue reading

The Extreme Life of the Sea

The Extreme Life of the Sea by father-son team Stephen R Palumbi (marine biologist) and Anthony R Palumbi (science writer & novelist) was, to me, like a grown-up version of some of my favorite childhood books – books of interesting animal facts, like how high a mountain lion can jump or how fast a house fly can fly.

The Extreme Life of the Sea is less narrative and more an enthusiastic sharing of cool things in the sea, which are loosely tied together in thematic sections. It is not, however, just a collection of “gee whiz” facts. The compelling vignettes help to convey broader concepts of science and nature with excitement and enthusiasm.

Most of all, the Palumbis remind the reader that science and nature are not just important, they are fun. Continue reading

Sunday Science Poem: The Stark Dignity of Self-Organization

William Carlos Williams’ “Spring and All” (1923)

After an unintentionally long hiatus, our Sunday Science Poem is back. April is National Poetry Month, and this month we’ll read the poetry of the American physician-poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963).

“In physics, irreversibility and dissipation were interpreted as degradation, while among natural scientists biological evolution, which is obviously an irreversible* process, was associated with increasing complexity… Today scientists realize that dissipative systems constitute a very large and important class of natural systems.” (Grégoire Nicolis and Ilya Prigogine, Exploring Complexity (1989), p. 50-51

Nicolis and Prigogine argue that we should no longer take the simple, regular, and stable motions of classical mechanics as the essence of our macroscopic physical world. Rather, we live in “a world of instabilities and fluctuations, which are ultimately responsible for the amazing variety and richness of the forms and structure we see in nature around us.” Nature is characterized by spontaneously organizing structures. Continue reading

Science Caturday: Game of Thrones Edition


Really, who needs science when you’ve got dragons? But if you want both, check out this article by Marc Lallanilla all about the science of Game of Thrones, including handy explainers on incest, wildfire, and never-ending seasons.

News from the Dark – Science for The People

#259 - News from the Dark

#259 – News from the Dark

This week, Science for The People is peering out into the black to learn about deepest space, and our own night sky. They talk to Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, about recent measurements of gravity waves, and what they tell us about the birth of the Universe. They also speak to journalist and essayist Paul Bogard about his book “The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light.” And Noisy Astronomer Nicole Gugliucci tells them about a project using citizen science to map the surface of the moon.

The Art of Science: So Over the Horizon

Fox, New Zealand, from Caleb Cain Marcus,  A Portrait of Ice

Fox, New Zealand, from Caleb Cain Marcus, A Portrait of Ice

You know how the horizon makes a more or less straight line across every landscape?  I saw a series of art photos of glaciers last night by Caleb Cain Marcus at the National Academy of Sciences that buck the convention. Although he’s shooting landscapes, Marcus messes around with the composition of his photographs so that he eliminates the horizon – you just get craggy bits of ice and then a big expanse of sky.  As the NAS blurb about the show expresses it: “Freed from the horizon, a sense of scale is lost, altering one’s experience of a landscape. It is in this unfamiliar territory that Cain Marcus hopes viewers can fully experience the persona of ice.”

But here’s the weird thing: I saw this artwork just a few days after watching Cosmos, the episode where Neil DeGrasse Tyson pointed out that, because we’re on a round planet spinning through a constantly moving universe, that line that we see as the horizon isn’t actually there. The line is a lie.

So, in making his pictures of glaciers more abstract by eliminating the horizon, Marcus is actually making them more real. And I think I just blew my own mind.

You can see the show at NAS through July 18 or see more images on Marcus’ website.