From Dark Matter to Hiccups, Artists Explore Mysteries of Science

By Rebecca Horne
Nov 16, 2012 4:27 PMOct 7, 2019 8:18 PM
rogue wave
Illustration by John Hendrix

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The Where The Why and The How is a recent release from Chronicle books that asks 75 artists and illustrators to interpret the unsolved mysteries of science. Don’t expect answers to questions like “Why is each snowflake unique” and “Can evolution outpace climate change” -- but the collection may help dispel the notion that science is best illustrated by digital renderings, graphs and pie charts.

Do Rogue Waves Exist?

The Where The Why and The How is a recent release from Chronicle books that asks 75 artists and illustrators to interpret the unsolved mysteries of science. Don't expect answers to questions like "Why is each snowflake unique” and “Can evolution outpace climate change"—but the collection may help dispel the notion that science is best illustrated by digital renderings, graphs and pie charts. Far from the brassy computer renderings of cosmic events, for instance, in these pages you’ll see star births described in pen and ink, antimatter realized in collage, and a hand-painted black hole.  The question "Do rogue waves exist?", illustrated here, bears a fantastical illustration but the problem is very real: More than 100 large ships are lost at sea every year under mysterious circumstances, and sailors and scientists alike speculate that rogue waves may be responsible. The existence of rogue waves in shallow bays has long been documented, as in the earthquake-generated tsunami in Alaska's Lituya Bay, which rose 400 feet taller than the Empire State Building. However, the evidence for rogue waves in the open sea was less conclusive before 1995, when an enormous rogue wave was documented in the North Sea. Victoria Keener, research fellow at East-West Center, Honolulu, describes the recent shift in thinking:

"Now, rogue waves with no known mechanical cause are known to occur on a semi-regular basis. Scientists think that a perfect combination of events may be responsible for generating rogue waves. Waves propagating with different wavelengths can cause wave 'focusing,' in which the shape and size of obstacles and irregularities on the ocean floor cause the energy to compress at the front of the wave towards the shoreline. It is theorized that when these focused waves are superimposed on a chaotic ocean background, giant waves could form. Researchers are attempting to recreate rogue-wave-generating conditions in a laboratory wave tank by modeling ocean current focusing for local effects and non-linear wave oscillations described by a series of Schrodinger equations."

Artist John Hendrix was given total freedom in responding to Keener’s essay. He chose the giant sea serpent over his initial sketches that were more informational depictions of wave frequency. "I decided to go towards something more personal and create a more whimsical mythology for rogue waves," he said. "This giant sea-serpent is clearly responsible for feeding the entire ocean of boat-hungry beasts. He just needs giant waves to hide his mischief." To see an animated version of the book, click here

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