Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard

The Search for “Beauty”

“What are all these but a small spark of divine beauty?”

—Excerpt from illustration caption, Quarles’ Emblems, 1861


I admit to being a bit of a physics geek. Not that I understand most of it (if a real scientist happens to be reading this, please forgive any inaccuracies!), but I am intrigued by the questions it raises concerning the nature of existence and the little-understood forces at work in this mysterious universe in which we live. When I saw the title of an article in the latest Scientific American, “Measuring Beauty,” I was excited, thinking this might be something of interest to readers of my historical novel, The Beauty Doctor.  After all, one of the topics explored through its suspenseful plot is the meaning of beauty. Had scientists finally come up with an elusive “something” that was responsible for our perception of the “beautiful”?

Turns out it was not as I had hoped, though the article was quite interesting. In essence, scientists are experimenting with new methods of detecting previously elusive particles (quarks) in the universe. It is necessary to understand how these particles behave in order to make sense of currently incomplete theories about how the entire universe operates. When I was in school, we learned about protons, neutrons and electrons. These days, we know of so many more particles, and much smaller ones, that constitute the matter of the universe. We’re also delving into anti-matter, black holes and all sorts of other stuff. (As for the above illustration, I found it while Internet searching for “quark”—obviously a glitch, but it caught my fancy so I convinced myself it could be someone’s figurative concept of the multi-layered universe!)

But back to “beauty”: In the context of the SA article, it is only a name that has been assigned to a particularly pesky quark which is always clustered with five other particles and arranged in three groups of two, cleverly dubbed “up and down,” “charm and strange,” and “beauty and truth.” Actually, the selection of the name “beauty” for this quark may be more than a mere whim; it probably is an oblique reference to theories of an underlying symmetry of the universe. As we all know from our own limited perceptions of nature, symmetry has often been equated with “beauty.”

Unfortunately, however, the particles called “beauty” and “charm” are not the latest new injectable.  Oh well . . . We can dream!

Source: Scientific American, “Measuring Beauty,” by Guy Wilkinson, November 2017, pp. 57-63; Illustration Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14559336337/; Quarles’ Emblems illustrated by Charles Bennett and w. Harry Rogers, 1861

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In the spring of 1907, Abigail Platford finds herself unexpectedly adrift in New York City. Penniless and full of self-doubt, she has abandoned her dream of someday attending medical school and becoming a doctor like her late father. Instead, she takes a minor position in the office of Dr. Franklin Rome, hoping at least to maintain contact with the world of medicine that fascinates her. She soon learns that the handsome and sophisticated Dr. Rome is one of a rare new breed of so-called beauty doctors who chisel noses, pin back ears, trim eyelids and inject wrinkles with paraffin. At first skeptical, she begins to open her mind, and then her heart, to Dr. Rome. But when his partnership with an eccentric collector of human oddities raises troubling questions, Abigail becomes ensnared in a web of treachery that challenges her most cherished beliefs about a doctor’s sacred duty and threatens to destroy all she loves.

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