Science Book a Day Interviews Kimberly Arcand
Special thanks to Kimberly Arcand for answering 5 questions about the book she co-authored, which was recently featured book – Light: The Visible Spectrum and Beyond
Kim was working in molecular biology and public health when she was hired for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in 1998. Since she always wanted to be an astronaut when she was little, this opportunity got Kim close to the cosmos but without the long distance commute. Today, Kim uses data to help tell stories about science, whether in the form of a 3d model of an exploded star, a book about the Universe, or a tweet about how fireflies glow. – From Kim and Megan’s Homepage
#1 – What was the impetus for Light?
Megan and I have worked for a space-based NASA telescope, called the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which looks at X-ray light from the Universe. Over our careers, one of the things that we often find ourselves discussing is that there are other types of light than what humans can naturally see. We found that many people aren’t aware that light comes in different forms and most of us use them in a host of different ways in daily life. When the United Nations declared 2015 to be the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies, it seemed like perfect opportunity to talk more about such an important topic.
In 2014, we started collaborating on an exhibit project for this special year of light and found ourselves completely inspired by the subject matter. We wanted to go deeper and broader with the content than we could in an exhibition however. Researching and writing our book Light: the Visible Spectrum and Beyond enabled that closer look at light and the ways it touches our lives. We also had searched for similar books that explain optics and the science of light in a visual way, and didn’t find what we were looking for.
#2 – What relationship do people have with light in our daily lives? Do you think we take it for granted?
Light allows us to see everything around us, though humans can only see a sliver of all light, known as the electromagnetic spectrum. From radio waves, harnessed for telecommunications, to X-rays, which let us peer inside the human body and view areas around black holes in deep space, there are so many ways that light impacts us. Each of the main chapters of the book starts out with a section called A Day in the Light that steps the reader through just a sample of the ways the light can be involved. For example, from the chapter on Radio waves:
Some people prefer the sound of the radio over the incessant buzz of an alarm first thing in the morning. The song you hear or the news you learn about on the radio each morning may change, but they could be one of the first ways you experience radio waves (transformed into sound wave) in your daily routing. If you’re using GPS to get to a new location, making a call on a cordless or cellular phone, using a Bluetooth-enabled device, or even opening your garage door with a remote, you have just used radio waves.
#3 – The book is organised into different type of light. What did organising light in this way allow you to do with the book?
Since the electromagnetic spectrum is typically categorized into seven different kinds of light based on the wavelength – radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays – it seemed a straight-forward way to use that as the outline for the book. One point we wanted to emphasize however is that even though there are these different kids of light, they are all still just “light.” As we talk about in the book, if you imagine you are driving a car that can go from 1 mile per hour (mph) to 200 mph, you could easily divide the speed of the car into chunks. There might be a good reason to see how the car behaves between, say, 100 and 150 mph. But that doesn’t mean the car acts dramatically different between 99 mph and 100 mph. Similarly, this is some fluidity between the different kinds of light. There are also behaviors that happen across many or all kinds of light. We talk about some of those behaviors in each chapter, whether it’s looking at reflections, refraction, fluorescence, atomic collisions, electric discharge, or even “Leaking Light” (light pollution).
#4 – The book is filled with glorious images. How did you decide which images to put in and which to leave out? What were you trying to demonstrate with so many beautiful images?
We wanted to not just say how important and amazing light is but also show it. The images and illustrations helped us to do that in an accessible way, helping to make the book both more exciting to explore visually while keeping it easy to understand. We scoured web sites, papers, social media feeds and our contact lists to find photographers, artists, engineers, and scientists who were able to capture some of the behaviors of light or phenomena that we wanted to talk about. For example, at a local art festival in the town where I grew up, I came across Dr. Paula Fontaine who was a physician by day and an artist by night. After hours, she used her medical X-ray imaging equipment to capture X-rays of and colorize unique objects such as skulls, lobsters and plants, turning them into artwork on canvas, glass and photographic prints.
#5 – Are you working on any other books/projects you can tell us about?
We are actually discussing a new book idea with our publisher, but as we don’t have a contract yet we probably shouldn’t say too much! Stay tuned to http://www.arcandwatzke.com for more.
[Image Credit: http://web.uri.edu/quadangles/files/Kim_Arcand.jpg ]