“Many scientists take pictures of nanoscience, but the pictures don’t really communicate what is going on,” says Felice Frankel. “I wanted people to see how fascinating that world is.”
No small task, even for her. Often called a “photoscience journalist,” Frankel, 64, has spent the past 19 years doing photography that’s not just beautiful but illustrates scientific concepts. She was an architecture shooter when, on a Loeb Fellowship to Harvard, she audited a class with chemist George C. Whitesides. He invited her to try to make an image for one of his articles, on hydrophobic surfaces. Her resulting “Chiclets” photo of water droplets ran on the cover of Science.
But her latest book with Whitesides, No Small Matter: Science on the Nanoscale ($35, Harvard University Press), was a new challenge. She had to capture subjects as tiny as DNA, ribosomes, and quantum dots— plus things that can’t be photographed literally, such as the principle of quantum mechanics. “The concept came first,” she says. “It was an entirely different thought process.”
For a chapter on music, Frankel mounted her Nikon D3x body on a microscope to capture how audio waves are imprinted on a Beatles record. She scanned small sea creatures and fuel cells at 600 dpi on a flatbed scanner. Close-up images of water droplets required a macro lens and creative props. Occasionally she’d rely on metaphor, using Adobe Photoshop to create images of the impossible.
“It’s giving readers a visual cue to make sense of these concepts,” Frankel says. “And it’s making pictures of research interesting to look at.”