Treasured Texts

The greatest textbooks challenge, elucidate, and inspire. Here are the best of the best

13 min read
Opening illustration for this feature article.
Illustration: Rob Magiera

The son of a British Quaker schoolteacher who became a brilliant orator but believed that practical study was more important than lectures, a mathematical genius fleeing Germany because of his socialist views who was almost turned back by New York customs officials as medically unfit, and two educators, one self-taught in engineering, the other an inventor of analog computers—what did they have in common? Their textbooks on electrical technology were among the few classics that helped establish a new discipline and set the world onto a path that would eventually lead to pocket computers, broadband Internet access, and plasma-screen TVs.

Electrical engineering emerged as a profession in the 1870s and 1880s, when, for the first time, inventors devised such wonders as effective generators, practical arc lamps and incandescent bulbs, effective motors, transmission of power from central stations, and the telephone. Indeed, there had been earlier electrical technologies—the lightning rod, electroplating, and, most importantly, the electric telegraph—but these were not sufficient fodder to nurture a full-fledged profession.

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Engineers Are Working on a Solar Microgrid to Outlast Lunar Nights

Future lunar bases will need power for mining and astronaut survival

4 min read
A rendering of a lunar base. In the foreground are rows of solar panels and behind them are two astronauts standing in front of a glass dome with plants inside.
P. Carril/ESA

The next time humans land on the moon, they intend to stay awhile. For the Artemis program, NASA and its collaborators want to build a sustained presence on the moon, which includes setting up a base where astronauts can live and work.

One of the crucial elements for a functioning lunar base is a power supply. Sandia National Laboratories, a research and development lab that specializes in building microgrids for military bases, is teaming up with NASA to design one that will work on the moon.

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Trilobite-Inspired Camera Boasts Huge Depth of Field

New camera relies on “metalenses” that could be fabricated using a standard CMOS foundry

3 min read
Black and white image showing different white box shapes in rows

Scanning electron microscope image of the titanium oxide nanopillars that make up the metalens. The scale is 500 nanometers (nm).


Inspired by the eyes of extinct trilobites, researchers have created a miniature camera with a record-setting depth of field—the distance over which a camera can produce sharp images in a single photo. Their new study reveals that with the aid of artificial intelligence, their device can simultaneously image objects as near as 3 centimeters and as far away as 1.7 kilometers.

Five hundred million years ago, the oceans teemed with horseshoe-crab-like trilobites. Among the most successful of all early animals, these armored invertebrates lived on Earth for roughly 270 million years before going extinct.

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This Gift Will Help Your Aspiring Engineer Learn Technology

Know someone that is hard to shop for? We have the perfect gift for you.

4 min read