Issue Date: May 15, 2006
This week's cover story is a departure for C&EN. "The Gorgeous Inside Stories of Metal" by Senior Editor Ivan Amato is, as its title implies, a scientific photo essay (see page 14). In traditional C&EN stories, graphical elements such as photographs, chemical structures, and molecular graphics function to support the text, which generally dominates each page. In this essay, the images are the story; the text provides the reader with information and context to better appreciate the images.
"Metallographers are anatomists of metal," Amato writes. "Whether it's the bronze of an 1,800-year-old arrowhead or a steel I-beam from World Trade Center Building 7, metallographers use a family of techniques for revealing metallic microstructures that tell stories." Those stories reveal the extraterrestrial origin of alloys in a meteorite, the stress a high-velocity projectile imparts to a sheet of nickel steel alloy, or the microstructure imparted by "cold work" to a sheet of titanium.
There is much chemistry involved in the metallographers' efforts. After grinding and polishing the surfaces of freshly cut metal samples, metallographers use acidic etchants and other agents to highlight different microstructural features. Among these, Amato writes, "are metallic and mineral phases, grain sizes and shapes, and defects such as voids and slips of the material's atomic or molecular planes." But the details of the chemical reactions that occur on these metal surfaces are not the focus of Amato's interest here; rather, it is the resulting images and what they reveal about the metal samples.
If the micrographs were simply drab images that contained useful information, however, we would hardly have decided to devote a cover and most of the space on five pages of C&EN to them. The photographs have the additional quality of being strikingly beautiful, which is one of the reasons metallographers are drawn to them. Indeed, as Amato writes, "They are reminiscent enough of abstract art that they often end up in frames on the metallographers' walls."
Amato is a veteran science reporter who joined C&EN's staff in November 2005. His career has included stints at Science and Science News, as well as a long and successful stretch as a freelance writer of magazine articles and books. He was the recipient of ACS's James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public in 1995.
Amato is drawn to stories like this one, which is one of the reasons we hired him last year. "Scientific data now are often as stunning to look at as they are informative," he says. "I frequently find myself thumbing through research journals as if they were picture books. It's the same for presentations at meetings-they often have this dual quality in which the images, data, computer simulations, and other graphic elements that drive the scientific argument of the presentation also are awesomely beautiful. That is what has inspired me to experiment with picture-driven storytelling."
C&EN published another picture-driven story by Amato on calcium oxalate crystals in plants earlier this year (C&EN, Feb. 6, page 26). If you've misplaced that copy of C&EN, visit the interactive photo gallery of calcium oxalate crystal images on C&EN Online. If you are interested in additional striking images made by the metallographers profiled in this week's story, C&EN Online has a gallery of those, too.
Thanks for reading.
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