Publishers are beginning to go digital with textbooks, pushing boundaries to give students a personalized, interactive experience.
The ink hadn’t dried on the first edition of Molecular Biology: Principles and Practice when its scientist authors began dreaming up ideas for the second. They would go way beyond words on the page to give students a front row seat to science in action.
It was the summer of 2010, and the collaborators had just met with Adam Steinberg, the book’s artist. On his newly minted iPad, Steinberg showed them a splashy periodic table application called The Elements: A Visual Exploration that rocked their world.
The app included cleverly worded facts and scintillating periodic table trivia. But its real impact was visual. Its creator, scientist Theodore Gray, had gathered a mini-museum’s worth of fascinating objects to represent each element—from an iridescent hunk of bismuth to a dimestore dragon figurine made of copper. App users could see the objects in 3-D and rotate them, front to back and front again, with the swipe of a finger.
It wasn’t quite holding an object and turning it over in your hand, but it was pretty close.
Illustration: Keenan Cummings