Science!

I’ve been taking part in a Bloomberg journalism class over the past couple of weekends, and this week the homework was to write a blog about our real passion: what we would still spend our time doing if we had all the money we wanted. As you might have suspected, mine is science, so this seemed like an ideal blog for me to post here as well…

Super-energetic super-massive black holes spinning billions of light years apart, from across opposite ends of the universe, seem to have somehow aligned themselves. Time freezes as your spaceship approaches such a black hole.

quasar
A quasar! Credit: Space Telescope Science Institute

A digital worm is currently being created that will be an exact cell-for-cell copy of the real thing.

Is it possible to teleport yourself from one place to another?

 

open worm better
Is it alive? Credit: http://browser.openworm.org/#nav=0.3,-0.83,20.72

What all these things have in common is that they are all science. They are also all things I have learnt about in the last week, some from my degree and some from outside reading. They are also all really, really exciting.

Science is more than just a list of cool statements and questions though. It is a whole complete and rigorous way of thinking that will allow you to give the best possible answer to any question thrown at you, be it ‘how many molecules of water have passed through that T-Rex’s fossilised footprint?’ or ‘how exactly is the floor holding us up?’

I think science is the most exciting and important discipline of all time, but especially so in recent history. We are living in a world where everyone has computers in their pockets, is connected to every person and all information at any time, using robots constantly held in free-fall around our earth, a world where people without legs can run on super advanced prosthetics, a world of vaccinations, where child mortality is dropping lower and lower.

All those things came about because for thousands of years we have been trying to understand the world around us, and because science works.

Even given all that, saying that science is the most important human endeavour is controversial.  And of course, it can’t exist in a vacuum- philosophy and art and empathy are still necessary and fun, but none of those things could have made the Internet or been able to recreate a living worm from scratch. I love to read and write, but no novelist has the imagination to dream up facts and scenarios more extreme and brilliant that those that science can reveal.

And the great thing about science is that it isn’t subjective—a model might be superseded by one that takes into account scenarios not thought of at the time, but if an experiment or an equation is proven, it can be repeated by anyone, anywhere, and at any time in the universe.  (Or, at least in theory: some people currently considering burning their lab books might disagree with me.)

It turns out that the facts are really quite nice ones too. Take even something trivial that you might have learned in school – Newton’s laws, for example, that you might remember as the whole F= ma rubbish and endless particles rolling down endless slopes.

Well, it turns out Newton’s laws and so the equations that describe pretty much everything you can see happening around you right now, can all be derived from this simple statement: ‘stuff is lazy’, or more scientifically ‘an object takes the  path from time a to time b and position c to position d that minimises the action’.

That statement can be expressed even more simply in this line:

lagrangian
Credit: Me & Lagrange (mostly Lagrange) 😛

Using those few symbols (minus the flower and the bee) you can fire a missile that will land with accuracy on your enemies, or set a pendulum in motion in such a way to prove that we are on a rotating earth spinning at over a thousand kilometres an hour. And a lot of stuff in between that too.

Another great thing about science is that has something to offer everyone. Its whole ethos seeks to improve and better itself, and it encourages people of all ages and talents to ask questions and think for themselves. Anyone can contribute to big science projects with hugely ambitious goals online in citizen science projects where you can discover exoplanets or help machines learn what cancer cells look like.

citizen science
Zooniverse  Credit: https://www.zooniverse.org/

Also I’ve been to loads of science events and seen people cutting up hearts, playing with magnets, chasing people who are dressed up as cancer-killing cells and playing the piano while a robot drums. Science is sufficiently robust to put up with people taking a relaxed and playful attitude towards it— it doesn’t need to be put behind a glass case and only commented on by people who feel suitably well-versed in Post-modernist sculpture (for example :P).

Science has created some of our species’ most memorable moments— be that walking on the moon, or discovering just how remarkably similar our genetics is to every other species on the planet. It requires only a willingness to improve and change your mind based on the evidence, and determination to follow logic. And it is the closest we can ever get to the truth of anything, our best chance to understand our place in the universe and just what it means to be human.

Further reading of exciting things I mentioned 🙂 

See a future blog of mine for more on the derivation of Newton’s laws 🙂

Quasars aligned from opposite ends of the universe: article, and paper 

Re-creating a worm project

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