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Book Bag: The Secrets of Sand Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

9 October 2015

Sand doesn't talk. It knows how to keep a secret. But in The Secrets of Sand, authors Gary Greenberg, Carol Kiely and Kate Clover let the sand out of the bag.

They do that with photos of sand grains taken through high-powered microscopes. Often the images have such shallow depth of field that a series of them has to be stacked together to create a single in-focus photo of the grain of sand.


But the real trick, the book explains in the first chapter happened when Greenberg realized "the basic flaw of conventional microscopes was the method of lighting: a single light directed straight onto the specimen."

Greenberg knew professional photographers preferred using multiple lights. Why not try that in a microscope, too?

So he devised ways to light the specimen in the microscope using more than one light. The results were dramatic:

This simple change in lighting significantly improved the contrast, resolution and depth of focus of his microscope images, and in addition it provided a three-dimensional image of the specimen.

The book being two-dimensional, it can't show a 3D image, of course. But Greenberg's site has a few for people who can cross their eyes and there's more on the LeHigh site for those with 3D glasses.

And with focus stacking, Greenberg's images even overcome the limitation of "the inherent shallow depth of focus."

Incidentally, Kevin Raber has written Focus Stacking -- Basic Guide to explain how that works and how you can use it for more common macro shots of small items.


It took three authors to produce this title. Here's a bit about each:

  • Dr. Gary Greenberg earned a doctorate in developmental biology from University College London and later joined the faculty at the University of Southern California. Co-founder of Edge Scientific Instrument Corporation, he developed high-definition 3D light microscopes, for which he has been issued 19 U.S. patents. He is currently a research affiliate at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.
  • Carol Kiely is an adjunct professor at Lehigh University and a lecturer in the Lehigh Microscopy School. Her latest work focuses on the study of lunar particles using a combination of light, scanning electron microscopy and X-ray microscopy. She uses photography combined with stereo imaging to explain scientific phenomena.
  • Kate Clover is gallery program manager at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul. She currently serves as education advisor for the International Sand Collectors Society. Her work focuses on sparking curiosity, passion and wonder about the natural world.

Most of the images are by Greenberg (and for sale on his site) but he taught Kiely how to shoot at up to 120x magnification and some of them are hers. Clover contributed the landscape photographs, which she took with a Nikon D80.


But back to the beach. And not just the beach, either.

In its scant 127 pages, this book collects specimens from beaches, rivers, deserts and even the moon. You'll be glad to know that the least photogenic sand is from the moon. And it isn't white but dung colored. Meteor strikes livened things up on the moon, though.

The stuff from earth looks like, well, jewelry. We drew a crowd flipping through each chapter of dazzling full-page illustrations.

There are eight chapters, covering Nature's Tiny Sculptures, The Origins of Sand, Island Beaches, Rivers and Lakes, Cointinental Beaches, Dunes, Lunar Dust and Sand You Might Have Walked On. At the end of the book are the Acknowledgements, Index and a page About the Authors.


There are photos of sand from 23 locations in the last chapter, Sand You Might Have Walked On. We won't list them here except to point in their general direction: Bermuda, California, Florida, Hawaii, Jamaica, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oregon and Utah.

We've walked on sand from a few of those locations. You, too, perhaps. It was fun to see where we've been.

That's a nice way to end this fascinating look at the subject, we think. A subject these authors have brought to light in such a marvelous way that their book ought to be in every school library.

Where, one would hope, it would remain intact despite the overwhelming temptation to rip out a page or two.

The Secrets of Sand by Greenberg, Kiely and Clover, published by Quarto Publishing Group, 128 pages, $27 (or $19.89 at

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