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Beauty,Spring 2005
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Scientific Beauty

Amanda Glendinning

A. Zee wrote in Fearful Symmetry: The Search for Beauty in Modern Physics that, "as glimpsed by physicists, Nature's rules are simple, but also intricate" (Zee 16). This is seen in many aspects of not only nature, but also most scientific properties and equations. Yet despite this, the scientists always seem to find a way in words to describe the beauty of what they see. Sometimes those words do not sound as beautiful to the audience but are still able to describe something gorgeous. In all of the cases of beauty, that is both scientific and the literary description, the beautiful object is simple and unique. Nature is simple and sticks to that rule even though it may appear intricate.

One of the most beautiful, and complexly simple things in nature are snowflakes. Every snowflake has hexagonal symmetry and yet no two snowflakes are alike. W.A. Bentley, a farmer from Vermont, proved the symmetry of snow crystals. Bentley wrote,
Under the microscope, I found that the snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind ( Exhibitions/2001/Bentley2001.htm)

The words written by Bentley are personal and in so are attractive to others. He describes snowflakes as "masterpieces" without repetition. Part of the beauty is the uniqueness of every snowflake. It is impressive to think of billions of snowflakes that fall, where none are the same. Snow crystals have a rotational symmetry that attracts not only geologists who study the crystals but also physicists. This is why, if a physicist is "the beholder..., beauty means symmetry" (Zee 13). The physicists who look for symmetry and "beautiful" equations find snowflakes to be gorgeous.

Another crystallized beauty is a crystal chamber in the Earth. Found in either caves or "vugs," which are open cavities, beautiful crystals of all different types of minerals grow (Talk with Melissa Lindholm). These caverns are where most of the large, gorgeous, mineral specimens come from; for example, the gigantic amethyst "cathedrals." In Keats' "Endymion" he describes these chambers.
To dive into the deepest. Dark, nor light,/ The region; nor bright, not somber wholly,
But mingled up; a gleaming melancholy;/ A dusky empire and its diadems;
One faint eternal eventide of gems./ Aye, millions sparkled on a vein of gold,...
Out-shooting sometimes, like a meteor-star,/...Like Vulcan's rainbow,...Anon it leads
Through winding passages, where sameness breeds/ Vexing conceptions of some sudden change;/ Whether to silver grots, or giant range/ Of sapphire columns, or fantastic bridge
Athwart a flood of crystal (

Keats describes scientific beauty poetically. First, he describes the light in a cavern. While it is not bright, the light only sparkles through the darkness from groups of gems to each other, as if the light was sparkling from crown jewels. In the cavern there were millions of gems, some sticking out, some in the wall, the different colors reverberating throughout the room. These rocks have never been exposed to daylight and yet they in essence produce their own light from the many crystals that are there. These crystals, which grow because of chemistry, and are studied by geologists, are simple beauty. There forms are usually symmetrical, even if, the outward appearance is not and each one is unique.

A specific crystal shape, the diamond, is symbolically one of the most beautiful things to men and women. The diamond, which is the hardest type of gem, is in many cultures, symbolic of love. A diamond is "forever" and "a girl's best friend." The rocks, which come in different colors, or just clear, demonstrate how nature can produce something which reflects light and in essence, strength. Henry David Thoreau wrote in "Journal" that "Perfect sincerity and transparency make a great part of beauty, as in dewdrops, lakes, and diamonds." These diamonds are like the snowflakes in symmetry. Each diamond has a carbon framework structure, which combine under high pressure. The extremely high pressure is what makes a diamond different from graphite, which has the same carbon structure. The pressure applied beautifies the diamond. Each diamond is unique, though the structure is similar.

Pearls are another natural beauty that is used by man for jewelry. A pearl is formed very differently than a diamond. Found inside of oysters, a pearl forms when a grain of sand gets caught and is covered by the shiny outside. While each pearl is beautiful, each one is also unique. They have the same body plan, but not necessarily the same identifying features. Pearls, like diamonds, are thought to be very valuable. They are hard to find, especially those which are real. A person would have to go through hundreds of oysters to find even one pearl. John Dryden wrote in "All for Love" about pearls as something desirable and fine. They are considered perfect. He said, "Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;/ He who would search for pearls must dive below" ( The rarity of beauty, symmetrical and simple, is in part what makes something so beautiful.

Items that are both simple and complex are usually considered some of the most beautiful. A simple equation e=mc2 is a simple explanation of what mass would be equal to if it turned into energy. Pi is a small number that never repeats itself and thus while easy to explain the concept of, is hard to remember the details of. Each beautiful thing is this world, can be traced back to something simple.

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