Dr. Gary Greenberg takes ordinary bits of sand and photographs them with a microscope. The result is unexpectedly beautiful. Dr. Greenberg says of the project, “Every time I see sand under a microscope, it’s a surprise. It’s like treasure hunting, only the treasures are very small, and they’re not very expensive.” The surprising beauty of grains of sand is a reminder that perspective can affect our whole understanding of something and that we may not always have the full picture until we look closer.


This Is What Sand Looks Like Under A Microscope

With the help of a powerful 3D microscope, the Hawaii-based photographer Gary Greenberg shoots stunning macro images of grains of sand, dissecting the seemingly uniform material into otherworldly crystals. The microscope, which the artist himself invented after earning a Ph.D. in biomedical research, magnifies the microscopic to 300 times their original size; the machine also affords the resultant images an astounding depth of field, capturing the most subtle curves and structures of the minuscule grains of sand.

Greenberg derives pleasure from the unpredictability of his process; each beach has a diverse history and therefore produces unique sand. In Maui alone, the grain shapes range from cylinders to spirals; they can be vividly colored or more muted. In the same handful of sand, we might find a tiny shell beside a microscopic mineral section that resembles an eaten corn cob.

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Gorgeous, high-magnification sand photos

Here’s a collection of gorgeous high-magnification photos of grains of sand, taken by Dr Gary Greenberg, whose site is full of astounding macrophotography shots (check out the moon dust and discover why Katie Levinson calls it “microscopic razors that cling like packing peanuts”). If these pics excite you, check out Grain of Sand: Nature’s Secret Wonder, Greenberg’s very highly rated 2008 art book showcasing his work (with an introduction by Stacy Keach) (!). He’s also got a book of macrofocus flower photos that looks promising.

 A Grain of Sand Up Close

Remember using the microsope in the good old chemistry and biology classes in high school? Putting things under a microscopic lens can certainly make you view the world differently.

Dr. Gary Greenberg has devoted his life to revealing the secret beauty of nature. When Gary turned his microscope on sand, gemlike minerals, colorful coral fragments, and delicate microscopic shells, were discovered revealing sand to be much more than little brown rocks.

Each piece is either a fragment of crystal, spiral fragments of shells or crumbs of volcanic rock. You will never look at sand at the beach the same way again! If you want to know more, get the book here.



Andrew Scull takes on the psychiatric industry and the legitimacy of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in this review of two scathing analyses by a psychotherapist and a neuropsychiatrist:

Both men, though, see the DSM as a disaster — a psychiatry built upon such foundations as a rickety, unsafe, unscientific enterprise that faces looming catastrophe. And as weird as it is to see two such narcissistic know-it-alls (see DSM IV TR diagnosis 301.81, Narcissistic Personality Disorder) agreeing on anything, in view of their completely divergent starting points and competing grandiose senses of self-importance, they may well be right.

Read more here.

I’m trying to read this book about the DSM because it’s important, but I keep being frustrated by this practicing therapist’s cluelessness about some things. (It’s Gary Greenberg’s The Book of Woe.)

For instance, he notes research that based on DSM criteria, 25-30% of Americans qualify for a mental illness, but only 19% of them seek treatment. He tries to argue that if so few of those people actually have it “bad enough” to get treatment, could they “really” all have mental illness? Um, dude, you do realize that there are MANY reasons someone might not seek treatment for a serious mental health issue, right? 

He also consistently assumes the worst of psychiatrists, such as his claim that the reason they continue to promote the mostly-discredited serotonin hypothesis of depression is to “persuade reluctant patients to take their drugs.” What could’ve been a great commentary on the temptation of reducing complex problems to simple causes or the fact that mental health professionals don’t always keep up with current research to begin with turned into a passive-aggressive attack on psychiatrists as predatory liars.

Finally, even though Greenberg acknowledges that, as a practicing therapist, he has HAD to assign his patients diagnoses ~just so that their insurance would cover them~, he lays the blame on the existence of the DSM, not on insurance companies which are fucking greedy and have always had to be forced by law to cover patients fairly at all (i.e. the parity laws for mental illness coverage, which took forever to push through congress). 

He then continues to say that he no longer works with insurance companies in his practice, which he acknowledges limits the number of people who can afford his services quite severely, but at least he doesn’t have to use that evil DSM. Well, sorry dude, those of us who want to work with the majority of people who cannot pay for therapy out of their pockets have no choice right now.

I mean, I’m reading this because I do think there’s a lot to criticize about the DSM, but like, I’m only a fourth of the way into the book and I already have this much criticism of it.  

The problem here is not with the fifth edition of the DSM, the problem is with the idea behind the DSM. The idea behind the DSM is that the old wine of human suffering (you can read read that w(h)ine with and without the h) can be poured into the new skin of medical technology. It’s a very interesting idea that we could take the suffering that we all experience, some of us more than others, and turn it into disease in the way we normally think of disease. The problem with it has been that it turns out that our minds are different in some way from our bodies.


So again you have a wonderland quality about it where they are creating drugs for diseases that don’t really exist and guess what, they don’t really work very well.


Psychiatry is a discipline that exists in perpetual crisis, which is really interesting if you think about it…


It’s a bacterialogical model applied to the brain which is the most complex object in the universe…The idea that mental illness is just another medical problem, it has not been proved yet, this is really important to understand—psychiatry has yet to show that it’s understanding of mental illness as brain disorder works.


There is not enough understanding of the power of a book like that. So what they have is a book that they don’t believe in that then becomes the basis of their authority. To me, that’s as cynical as it gets.


The DSM is a response to the psychiatrists perception that everybody who objects to their profession is against them. We in the lay community call that paranoia.


The definition of a disease that we all work with and that has caused all of this mischief in the DSM is that disease is a form of suffering that’s caused by a biochemical pathogen; the germ theory. We know that’s not really true.

Gary Greenberg explores the complexities behind the fragile concept of brain death:

“Our sense that a body is not dead until it is still and cold may be uninformed and unscientific, but so is our sense that the sun moves across the sky from east to west, and most of us live our lives as if this were the case. Of course, you can’t plan a rocket trip to the moon based on that understanding of heavenly movement, and you can’t harvest organs from a body based on our instinctual understanding of death. The concept of brain death has its uses; organ transplants save many lives. But it has its limits, too.”

Photograph by Zephyr/Getty.