Some Cool Science Sites

Whether you like it or not, science holds a central and critical role in modern society. Even those of us who are science-adverse still have the cell phone, the car, and the TV that are the direct result of scientific innovation. But, beyond that, science has transformed how we view the universe, as well as how we view our place within it. It behooves all of us to know at least a little bit about science so that we can better understand the world in which we live. Here are a few science related sites I stumbled upon that are worth the visit.

The American Institute of Physics, publisher of Physics Today, also runs the Center for History of Physics. Their mission (from their website):

AIP’s Center for History of Physics works to to preserve and make known the historical record of modern physics and allied sciences. Through documentation, archival collections and educational initiatives, the Center ensures that the heritage of modern physics is safeguarded and its story accurately told.

One of the exhibits in the Center is Cosmic Journey: A History of Scientific Cosmology. This exhibit traces the development of human understanding and views of the universe in which we live, from the beginnings of a scientific approach to looking at the universe of the Greeks to the most recent tools scientists are using today to examine the mysteries of the universe. They also have exhibits on Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, the transistor, Heisenberg and uncertainty and more.

Game theory is an up and coming field that tries to bring the rigor of mathematics to human endeavors such as economics, political science and business. Perhaps the most famous game in game theory is the prisoner’s dilemma, as described on the site gametheory.net:

A game frequently displayed in television police dramas. Two partners in crime are separated into separate rooms at the police station and given a similar deal. If one implicates the other, he may go free while the other receives a life in prison. If neither implicates the other, both are given moderate sentences, and if both implicate the other, the sentences for both are severe.

The role of game theory is to understand what choices people would make in situations like this, if those choices can be predicted, and if those choices are “rational,” or make sense. gametheory.net gives a nice introduction to this field, including interactive games to demonstrate some of the basic principles of game theory.

Mathematics is a broad field with differing levels of applicability to other, more “mundane” disciplines. One example of a branch of mathematics that started off as mathematicians doing math just for the hell of it, but has begun having ramifications for science, is the area of knot theory. For example, knot theory is playing a role in string theory, the supposed successor to quantum field theory and the current best candidate for a Grand Unified Theory of everything.

knotplot.com offers an amazing software package, for Mac, Windows and even Linux, for manipulating knots on your computer. In addition to generating pretty pictures (like the one above), you can use the software to examine the topology of knots, such as reducing complex knots to their simplest form (unfolding them). The software is very fun to play with and generates some stunning graphics that would make for an excellent screen saver.

The final site I wanted to mention today is Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog. Dr. Goldacre is a doctor and journalist in Britain and he writes a bad science column for The Guardian. His work has appeared in other media as well. In his blog, he discusses the scientific “merits” (or non-merits, more often than not) of reports in the media that claim some scientific legitimacy. He has taken it upon himself to expose bad scientific claims in order to both educate the public about misleading reports as well as to help people learn when scientific claims are not so scientific after all.

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