One of the great challenges in communicating science is the problem of orders of magnitude. While it is relatively easy to picture 1:10, or 1:100 (I picture little squares of graph paper), once you get to 1:10,000 there is quite a bit of error. Yet in ecology we are tasked with, for example, understanding how populations of microbes interact with their host to cause disease. When that host is a vertebrate, we are dealing with scales of 1:1,000,000,000,000. The mind boggles.
Which is why it is so wonderful to see it done right. The classic in this genre is Philip and Phylis Morrison’s Powers of Ten. In a hundred or so pages, they travel from a view of 10^25 meters (basically empty space) down to 10-15 (one fermi), inside a proton. Biology pretty much spans the innards, from the scale of the biosphere (10^7) to the molecular (10^-9). Their video is great–it has that 70’s Public television ambience. Which is not to say its not fantastic.
Here is the Simpson‘s take on it.
The latest entry in the “blow our minds and edify our intellects” competition is this Google video on the size of celestial bodies. From little ‘ole Mars up to W. Cephei.
I’d love to see a similar project capturing the diversity of life from prion to Blue whale. Let us know if something like that exists, or if there are other great “scale of science” visuals.