Science, systematic study of anything that can be examined, tested, and verified. The word science is derived from the Latin word scire, meaning “to know.” From its early beginnings, science has developed into one of the greatest and most influential fields of human endeavor. Today different branches of science investigate almost everything that can be observed or detected, and science as a whole shapes the way we understand the universe, our planet, ourselves, and other living things.
Science develops through objective analysis, instead of through personal belief. Knowledge gained in science accumulates as time goes by, building on work performed earlier. Some of this knowledge—such as our understanding of numbers—stretches back to the time of ancient civilizations, when scientific thought first began. Other scientific knowledge—such as our understanding of genes that cause cancer or of quarks (the smallest known building block of matter)—dates back less than 50 years. However, in all fields of science, old or new, researchers use the same systematic approach, known as the scientific method, to add to what is known.
During scientific investigations, scientists put together and compare new discoveries and existing knowledge. In most cases, new discoveries extend what is currently accepted, providing further evidence that existing ideas are correct. For example, in 1676 the English physicist Robert Hooke discovered that elastic objects, such as metal springs, stretch in proportion to the force that acts on them. Despite all the advances that have been made in physics since 1676, this simple law still holds true.
Scientists utilize existing knowledge in new scientific investigations to predict how things will behave. For example, a scientist who knows the exact dimensions of a lens can predict how the lens will focus a beam of light. In the same way, by knowing the exact makeup and properties of two chemicals, a researcher can predict what will happen when they combine. Sometimes scientific predictions go much further by describing objects or events that are not yet known. An outstanding instance occurred in 1869, when the Russian chemist Dmitry Mendeleyev drew up a periodic table of the elements arranged to illustrate patterns of recurring chemical and physical properties. Mendeleyev used this table to predict the existence and describe the properties of several elements unknown in his day, and when the elements were discovered several years later, his predictions proved to be correct.
In science, important advances can also be made when current ideas are shown to be wrong. A classic case of this occurred early in the 20th century, when the German geologist Alfred Wegener suggested that the continents were at one time connected, a theory known as continental drift. At the time, most geologists discounted Wegener’s ideas, because the Earth’s crust seemed to be fixed. But following the discovery of plate tectonics in the 1960s, in which scientists found that the Earth’s crust is actually made of moving plates, continental drift became an important part of geology.
Through advances like these, scientific knowledge is constantly added to and refined. As a result, science gives us an ever more detailed insight into the way the world around us works.
|II||WHY IS SCIENCE IMPORTANT?|
For a large part of recorded history, science had little bearing on people’s everyday lives. Scientific knowledge was gathered for its own sake, and it had few practical applications. However, with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, this rapidly changed. Today, science has a profound effect on the way we live, largely through technology—the use of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.
Some forms of technology have become so well established that it is easy to forget the great scientific achievements that they represent. The refrigerator, for example, owes its existence to a discovery that liquids take in energy when they evaporate, a phenomenon known as latent heat. The principle of latent heat was first exploited in a practical way in 1876, and the refrigerator has played a major role in maintaining public health ever since (see Refrigeration). The first automobile, dating from the 1880s, made use of many advances in physics and engineering, including reliable ways of generating high-voltage sparks, while the first computers emerged in the 1940s from simultaneous advances in electronics and mathematics.
Other fields of science also play an important role in the things we use or consume every day. Research in food technology has created new ways of preserving and flavoring what we eat (see Food Processing and Preservation). Research in industrial chemistry has created a vast range of plastics and other synthetic materials, which have thousands of uses in the home and in industry. Synthetic materials are easily formed into complex shapes and can be used to make machine, electrical, and automotive parts, scientific and industrial instruments, decorative objects, containers, and many other items.
Alongside these achievements, science has also brought about technology that helps save human life. The kidney dialysis machine enables many people to survive kidney diseases that would once have proved fatal, and artificial valves allow sufferers of coronary heart disease to return to active living. Biochemical research is responsible for the antibiotics and vaccinations that protect us from infectious diseases, and for a wide range of other drugs used to combat specific health problems. As a result, the majority of people on the planet now live longer and healthier lives than ever before.
However, scientific discoveries can also have a negative impact in human affairs. Over the last hundred years, some of the technological advances that make life easier or more enjoyable have proved to have unwanted and often unexpected long-term effects. Industrial and agricultural chemicals pollute the global environment, even in places as remote as Antarctica, and city air is contaminated by toxic gases from vehicle exhausts (see Pollution). The increasing pace of innovation means that products become rapidly obsolete, adding to a rising tide of waste (see Solid Waste Disposal). Most significantly of all, the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas releases into the atmosphere carbon dioxide and other substances known as greenhouse gases. These gases have altered the composition of the entire atmosphere, producing global warming and the prospect of major climate change in years to come.
Science has also been used to develop technology that raises complex ethical questions. This is particularly true in the fields of biology and medicine (see Medical Ethics). Research involving genetic engineering, cloning, and in vitro fertilization gives scientists the unprecedented power to bring about new life, or to devise new forms of living things. At the other extreme, science can also generate technology that is deliberately designed to harm or to kill. The fruits of this research include chemical and biological warfare, and also nuclear weapons, by far the most destructive weapons that the world has ever known.
|III||HOW SCIENTISTS WORK|
Scientific research can be divided into basic science, also known as pure science, and applied science. In basic science, scientists working primarily at academic institutions pursue research simply to satisfy the thirst for knowledge. In applied science, scientists at industrial corporations conduct research to achieve some kind of practical or profitable gain.
In practice, the division between basic and applied science is not always clear-cut. This is because discoveries that initially seem to have no practical use often develop one as time goes by. For example, superconductivity, the ability to conduct electricity with no resistance, was little more than a laboratory curiosity when Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes discovered it in 1911. Today superconducting electromagnets are used in an ever-increasing number of important applications, from diagnostic medical equipment to powerful particle accelerators.
Scientists study the origin of the solar system by analyzing meteorites and collecting data from satellites and space probes. They search for the secrets of life processes by observing the activity of individual molecules in living cells. They observe the patterns of human relationships in the customs of aboriginal tribes. In each of these varied investigations the questions asked and the means employed to find answers are different. All the inquiries, however, share a common approach to problem solving known as the scientific method. Scientists may work alone or they may collaborate with other scientists. In all cases, a scientist’s work must measure up to the standards of the scientific community. Scientists submit their findings to science forums, such as science journals and conferences, in order to subject the findings to the scrutiny of their peers.
Whatever the aim of their work, scientists use the same underlying steps to organize their research: (1) they make detailed observations about objects or processes, either as they occur in nature or as they take place during experiments; (2) they collect and analyze the information observed; and (3) they formulate a hypothesis that explains the behavior of the phenomena observed.
|A1||Observation and Experimentation|
A scientist begins an investigation by observing an object or an activity. Observation typically involves one or more of the human senses—hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch. Scientists typically use tools to aid in their observations. For example, a microscope helps view objects too small to be seen with the unaided human eye, while a telescope views objects too far away to be seen by the unaided eye.
Scientists typically apply their observation skills to an experiment. An experiment is any kind of trial that enables scientists to control and change at will the conditions under which events occur. It can be something extremely simple, such as heating a solid to see when it melts, or something highly complex, such as bouncing a radio signal off the surface of a distant planet. Scientists typically repeat experiments, sometimes many times, in order to be sure that the results were not affected by unforeseen factors.
Most experiments involve real objects in the physical world, such as electric circuits, chemical compounds, or living organisms. However, with the rapid progress in electronics, computer simulations can now carry out some experiments instead. If they are carefully constructed, these simulations or models can accurately predict how real objects will behave.
One advantage of a simulation is that it allows experiments to be conducted without any risks. Another is that it can alter the apparent passage of time, speeding up or slowing down natural processes. This enables scientists to investigate things that happen very gradually, such as evolution in simple organisms, or ones that happen almost instantaneously, such as collisions or explosions.
|A2||Data Collection and Analysis|
During an experiment, scientists typically make measurements and collect results as they work. This information, known as data, can take many forms. Data may be a set of numbers, such as daily measurements of the temperature in a particular location or a description of side effects in an animal that has been given an experimental drug. Scientists typically use computers to arrange data in ways that make the information easier to understand and analyze. Data may be arranged into a diagram such as a graph that shows how one quantity (body temperature, for instance) varies in relation to another quantity (days since starting a drug treatment). A scientist flying in a helicopter may collect information about the location of a migrating herd of elephants in Africa during different seasons of a year. The data collected may be in the form of geographic coordinates that can be plotted on a map to provide the position of the elephant herd at any given time during a year.
Scientists use mathematics to analyze the data and help them interpret their results. The types of mathematics used include statistics, which is the analysis of numerical data, and probability, which calculates the likelihood that any particular event will occur.
|A3||Formulating a Hypothesis|
Once an experiment has been carried out and data collected and analyzed, scientists look for whatever pattern their results produce and try to formulate a hypothesis that explains all the facts observed in an experiment. In developing a hypothesis, scientists employ methods of induction to generalize from the experiment’s results to predict future outcomes, and deduction to infer new facts from experimental results.
Formulating a hypothesis may be difficult for scientists because there may not be enough information provided by a single experiment, or the experiment’s conclusion may not fit old theories. Sometimes scientists do not have any prior idea of a hypothesis before they start their investigations, but often scientists start out with a working hypothesis that will be proved or disproved by the results of the experiment. Scientific hypotheses can be useful, just as hunches and intuition can be useful in everyday life. But they can also be problematic because they tempt scientists, either deliberately or unconsciously, to favor data that support their ideas. Scientists generally take great care to avoid bias, but it remains an ever-present threat. Throughout the history of science, numerous researchers have fallen into this trap, either in the hope of self-advancement or because they firmly believe their ideas to be true.
If a hypothesis is borne out by repeated experiments, it becomes a theory—an explanation that seems to consistently fit with the facts. The ability to predict new facts or events is a key test of a scientific theory. In the 17th century German astronomer Johannes Kepler proposed three theories concerning the motions of planets (see Kepler’s Laws). Kepler’s theories of planetary orbits were confirmed when they were used to predict the future paths of the planets. On the other hand, when theories fail to provide suitable predictions, these failures may suggest new experiments and new explanations that may lead to new discoveries. For instance, in 1928 British microbiologist Frederick Griffith discovered that the genes of dead virulent bacteria could transform harmless bacteria into virulent ones. The prevailing theory at the time was that genes were made of proteins. But studies performed by Canadian-born American bacteriologist Oswald Avery and colleagues in the 1930s repeatedly showed that the transforming gene was active even in bacteria from which protein was removed. The failure to prove that genes were composed of proteins spurred Avery to construct different experiments and by 1944 Avery and his colleagues had found that genes were composed of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), not proteins.
|B||Communicating with Other Scientists|
If other scientists do not have access to scientific results, the research may as well not have been performed at all. Scientists need to share the results and conclusions of their work so that other scientists can debate the implications of the work and use it to spur new research. Scientists communicate their results with other scientists by publishing them in science journals and by networking with other scientists to discuss findings and debate issues.
In science, publication follows a formal procedure that has set rules of its own. Scientists describe research in a scientific paper, which explains the methods used, the data collected, and the conclusions that can be drawn. In theory, the paper should be detailed enough to enable any other scientist to repeat the research so that the findings can be independently checked.
Scientific papers usually begin with a brief summary, or abstract, that describes the findings that follow. Abstracts enable scientists to consult papers quickly, without having to read them in full. At the end of most papers is a list of citations—bibliographic references that acknowledge earlier work that has been drawn on in the course of the research. Citations enable readers to work backwards through a chain of research advancements to verify that each step is soundly based.
Scientists typically submit their papers to the editorial board of a journal specializing in a particular field of research. Before the paper is accepted for publication, the editorial board sends it out for peer review. During this procedure a panel of experts, or referees, assesses the paper, judging whether or not the research has been carried out in a fully scientific manner. If the referees are satisfied, publication goes ahead. If they have reservations, some of the research may have to be repeated, but if they identify serious flaws, the entire paper may be rejected for publication.
The peer-review process plays a critical role because it ensures high standards of scientific method. However, it can be a contentious area, as it allows subjective views to become involved. Because scientists are human, they cannot avoid developing personal opinions about the value of each other’s work. Furthermore, because referees tend to be senior figures, they may be less than welcoming to new or unorthodox ideas.
Once a paper has been accepted and published, it becomes part of the vast and ever-expanding body of scientific knowledge. In the early days of science, new research was always published in printed form, but today scientific information spreads by many different means. Most major journals are now available via the Internet (a network of linked computers), which makes them quickly accessible to scientists all over the world.
When new research is published, it often acts as a springboard for further work. Its impact can then be gauged by seeing how often the published research appears as a cited work. Major scientific breakthroughs are cited thousands of times a year, but at the other extreme, obscure pieces of research may be cited rarely or not at all. However, citation is not always a reliable guide to the value of scientific work. Sometimes a piece of research will go largely unnoticed, only to be rediscovered in subsequent years. Such was the case for the work on genes done by American geneticist Barbara McClintock during the 1940s. McClintock discovered a new phenomenon in corn cells known as transposable genes, sometimes referred to as jumping genes. McClintock observed that a gene could move from one chromosome to another, where it would break the second chromosome at a particular site, insert itself there, and influence the function of an adjacent gene. Her work was largely ignored until the 1960s when scientists found that transposable genes were a primary means for transferring genetic material in bacteria and more complex organisms. McClintock was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for her work in transposable genes, more than 35 years after performing the research.
In addition to publications, scientists form associations with other scientists from particular fields. Many scientific organizations arrange conferences that bring together scientists to share new ideas. At these conferences, scientists present research papers and discuss their implications. In addition, science organizations promote the work of their members by publishing newsletters and Web sites; networking with journalists at newspapers, magazines, and television stations to help them understand new findings; and lobbying lawmakers to promote government funding for research.
The oldest surviving science organization is the Accademia dei Lincei, in Italy, which was established in 1603. The same century also saw the inauguration of the Royal Society of London, founded in 1662, and the Académie des Sciences de Paris, founded in 1666. American scientific societies date back to the 18th century, when American scientist and statesman Benjamin Franklin founded a philosophical club in 1727. In 1743 this organization became the American Philosophical Society, which still exists today.
In the United States, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) plays a key role in fostering the public understanding of science and in promoting scientific research. Founded in 1848, it has nearly 300 affiliated organizations, many of which originally developed from AAAS special-interest groups.
Since the late 19th century, communication among scientists has also been improved by international organizations, such as the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, founded in 1873, the International Council of Research, founded in 1919, and the World Health Organization, founded in 1948. Other organizations act as international forums for research in particular fields. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established in 1988, assesses research on how climate change occurs, and what effects change is likely to have on humans and their environment.
|IV||BRANCHES OF SCIENCE|
Classifying sciences involves arbitrary decisions because the universe is not easily split into separate compartments. This article divides science into five major branches: mathematics, physical sciences, earth sciences, life sciences, and social sciences. A sixth branch, technology, draws on discoveries from all areas of science and puts them to practical use. Each of these branches itself consists of numerous subdivisions. Many of these subdivisions, such as astrophysics or biotechnology, combine overlapping disciplines, creating yet more areas of research. For additional information on individual sciences, refer to separate articles highlighted in the text.
The mathematical sciences investigate the relationships between things that can be measured or quantified in either a real or abstract form. Pure mathematics differs from other sciences because it deals solely with logic, rather than with nature’s underlying laws. However, because it can be used to solve so many scientific problems, mathematics is usually considered to be a science itself.
Central to mathematics is arithmetic, the use of numbers for calculation. In arithmetic, mathematicians combine specific numbers to produce a result. A separate branch of mathematics, called algebra, works in a similar way, but uses general expressions that apply to numbers as a whole. For example, if there are three separate items on a restaurant bill, simple arithmetic produces the total amount to be paid. But the total can also be calculated by using an algebraic formula. A powerful and flexible tool, algebra enables mathematicians to solve highly complex problems in every branch of science.
Geometry investigates objects and the spaces around them. In its simplest form, it deals with objects in two or three dimensions, such as lines, circles, cubes, and spheres. Geometry can be extended to cover abstractions, including objects in many dimensions. Although we cannot perceive these extra dimensions ourselves, the logic of geometry still holds.
In geometry, it is easy to work out the exact area of a rectangle or the gradient (slope) of a line, but there are some problems that geometry cannot solve by conventional means. For example, geometry cannot calculate the exact gradient at a point on a curve, or the area that the curve bounds. Scientists find that calculating quantities like this helps them understand physical events, such as the speed of a rocket at any particular moment during its acceleration.
To solve these problems, mathematicians use calculus, which deals with continuously changing quantities, such as the position of a point on a curve. Its simultaneous development in the 17th century by English mathematician and physicist Isaac Newton and German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Willhelm Leibniz enabled the solution of many problems that had been insoluble by the methods of arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. Among the advances that calculus helped develop were the determination of Newton’s laws of motion and the theory of electromagnetism (see Magnetism).
The physical sciences investigate the nature and behavior of matter and energy on a vast range of size and scale. In physics itself, scientists study the relationships between matter, energy, force, and time in an attempt to explain how these factors shape the physical behavior of the universe. Physics can be divided into many branches. Scientists study the motion of objects, a huge branch of physics known as mechanics that involves two overlapping sets of scientific laws. The laws of classical mechanics govern the behavior of objects in the macroscopic world, which includes everything from billiard balls to stars, while the laws of quantum mechanics govern the behavior of the particles that make up individual atoms (see Quantum Theory).
Other branches of physics focus on energy and its large-scale effects. Thermodynamics is the study of heat and the effects of converting heat into other kinds of energy. This branch of physics has a host of highly practical applications because heat is often used to power machines. Physicists also investigate electrical energy and energy that is carried in electromagnetic waves. These include radio waves, light rays, and X rays—forms of energy that are closely related and that all obey the same set of rules (see Electromagnetic Radiation).
Chemistry is the study of the composition of matter and the way different substances interact—subjects that involve physics on an atomic scale. In physical chemistry, chemists study the way physical laws govern chemical change, while in other branches of chemistry the focus is on particular chemicals themselves. For example, inorganic chemistry investigates substances found in the nonliving world and organic chemistry investigates carbon-based substances. Until the 19th century, these two areas of chemistry were thought to be separate and distinct, but today chemists routinely produce organic chemicals from inorganic raw materials. Organic chemists have learned how to synthesize many substances that are found in nature, together with hundreds of thousands that are not, such as plastics and pesticides. Many organic compounds, such as reserpine, a drug used to treat hypertension, cost less to produce by synthesizing from inorganic raw materials than to isolate from natural sources. Many synthetic medicinal compounds can be modified to make them more effective than their natural counterparts, with less harmful side effects.
The branch of chemistry known as biochemistry deals solely with substances found in living things. It investigates the chemical reactions that organisms use to obtain energy and the reactions they use to build themselves up. Increasingly, this field of chemistry has become concerned not simply with chemical reactions themselves but also with how the shape of molecules influences the way they work. The result is the new field of molecular biology—one of the fastest-growing sciences today.
Physical scientists also study matter elsewhere in the universe, including the planets and stars. Astronomy is the science of the heavens in general, while astrophysics is a branch of astronomy that investigates the physical and chemical nature of stars and other objects. Astronomy deals largely with the universe as it appears today, but a related science called cosmology looks back in time to answer the greatest scientific questions of all: how the universe began and how it came to be as it is today.
The earth sciences examine the structure and composition of our planet, and the physical processes that have helped to shape it. Geology focuses on the structure of Earth, while geography is the study of everything on the planet’s surface, including the physical changes that humans have brought about from, for example, farming, mining, or deforestation. Scientists in the field of geomorphology study Earth’s present landforms, while mineralogists investigate the minerals in Earth’s crust and the way they formed (see Mineralogy).
Water dominates Earth’s surface, making it an important subject for scientific research. Oceanographers carry out research in the oceans (see Ocean and Oceanography), while scientists working in the field of hydrology investigate water resources on land, a subject of vital interest in areas prone to drought. Glaciologists study Earth’s icecaps and mountain glaciers, and the effects that ice has when it forms, melts, or moves. In atmospheric science, meteorology deals with day-to-day changes in weather, but climatology investigates changes in weather patterns over the longer term (see Climate).
When living things die their remains are sometimes preserved, creating a rich store of scientific information. Paleontology is the study of plant and animal remains that have been preserved in sedimentary rock, often millions of years ago (see Fossil). Paleontologists study things long dead and their findings shed light on the history of evolution and on the origin and development of humans. A related science, called palynology, is the study of fossilized spores and pollen grains. Scientists study these tiny structures to learn the types of plants that grew in certain areas during Earth’s history, which also helps identify what Earth’s climates were like in the past.
The life sciences include all those areas of study that deal with living things. Biology is the general study of the origin, development, structure, function, evolution, and distribution of living things. Biology may be divided into botany, the study of plants; zoology, the study of animals; and microbiology, the study of the microscopic organisms, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Many single-celled organisms play important roles in life processes and thus are important to more complex forms of life, including plants and animals.
Genetics is the branch of biology that studies the way in which characteristics are transmitted from an organism to its offspring. In the latter half of the 20th century, new advances made it easier to study and manipulate genes at the molecular level, enabling scientists to catalog all the genes found in each cell of the human body (see Human Genome Project). Exobiology, a new and still speculative field, is the study of possible extraterrestrial life. Although Earth remains the only place known to support life, many believe that it is only a matter of time before scientists discover life elsewhere in the universe.
While exobiology is one of the newest life sciences, anatomy is one of the oldest. It is the study of plant and animal structures, carried out by dissection or by using powerful imaging techniques (see Radiology). Gross anatomy deals with structures that are large enough to see, while microscopic anatomy deals with much smaller structures, down to the level of individual cells.
Physiology explores how living things work. Physiologists study processes such as cellular respiration and muscle contraction, as well as the systems that keep these processes under control. Their work helps to answer questions about one of the key characteristics of life—the fact that most living things maintain a steady internal state when the environment around them constantly changes.
Together, anatomy and physiology form two of the most important disciplines in medicine, the science of treating injury and human disease. General medical practitioners have to be familiar with human biology as a whole, but medical science also includes a host of clinical specialties. They include sciences such as cardiology, urology, and oncology, which investigate particular organs and disorders, and also pathology, the general study of disease and the changes that it causes in the human body.
As well as working with individual organisms, life scientists also investigate the way living things interact. The study of these interactions, known as ecology, has become a key area of study in the life sciences as scientists become increasingly concerned about the disrupting effects of human activities on the environment.
The social sciences explore human society past and present, and the way human beings behave. They include sociology, which investigates the way society is structured and how it functions, as well as psychology, which is the study of individual behavior and the mind. Social psychology draws on research in both these fields. It examines the way society influences people’s behavior and attitudes.
Another social science, anthropology, looks at humans as a species and examines all the characteristics that make us what we are. These include not only how people relate to each other but also how they interact with the world around them, both now and in the past. As part of this work, anthropologists often carry out long-term studies of particular groups of people in different parts of the world. This kind of research helps to identify characteristics that all human beings share and those that are the products of local culture, learned and handed on from generation to generation.
The social sciences also include political science, law, and economics, which are products of human society. Although far removed from the world of the physical sciences, all these fields can be studied in a scientific way. Political science and law are uniquely human concepts, but economics has some surprisingly close parallels with ecology. This is because the laws that govern resource use, productivity, and efficiency do not operate only in the human world, with its stock markets and global corporations, but in the nonhuman world as well.
In technology, scientific knowledge is put to practical ends. This knowledge comes chiefly from mathematics and the physical sciences, and it is used in designing machinery, materials, and industrial processes. In general, this work is known as engineering, a word dating back to the early days of the Industrial Revolution, when an ‘engine’ was any kind of machine.
Engineering has many branches, calling for a wide variety of different skills. For example, aeronautical engineers need expertise in the science of fluid flow, because airplanes fly through air, which is a fluid. Using wind tunnels and computer models, aeronautical engineers strive to minimize the air resistance generated by an airplane, while at the same time maintaining a sufficient amount of lift. Marine engineers also need detailed knowledge of how fluids behave, particularly when designing submarines that have to withstand extra stresses when they dive deep below the water’s surface. In civil engineering, stress calculations ensure that structures such as dams and office towers will not collapse, particularly if they are in earthquake zones. In computing, engineering takes two forms: hardware design and software design. Hardware design refers to the physical design of computer equipment (hardware). Software design is carried out by programmers who analyze complex operations, reducing them to a series of small steps written in a language recognized by computers.
In recent years, a completely new field of technology has developed from advances in the life sciences. Known as biotechnology, it involves such varied activities as genetic engineering, the manipulation of genetic material of cells or organisms, and cloning, the formation of genetically uniform cells, plants, or animals. Although still in its infancy, many scientists believe that biotechnology will play a major role in many fields, including food production, waste disposal, and medicine.
|V||HISTORY OF SCIENCE|
Science exists because humans have a natural curiosity and an ability to organize and record things. Curiosity is a characteristic shown by many other animals, but organizing and recording knowledge is a skill demonstrated by humans alone.
During prehistoric times, humans recorded information in a rudimentary way. They made paintings on the walls of caves, and they also carved numerical records on bones or stones. They may also have used other ways of recording numerical figures, such as making knots in leather cords, but because these records were perishable, no traces of them remain. But with the invention of writing about 6,000 years ago, a new and much more flexible system of recording knowledge appeared.
The earliest writers were the people of Mesopotamia, who lived in a part of present-day Iraq. Initially they used a pictographic script, inscribing tallies and lifelike symbols on tablets of clay. With the passage of time, these symbols gradually developed into cuneiform, a much more stylized script composed of wedge-shaped marks.
Because clay is durable, many of these ancient tablets still survive. They show that when writing first appeared, the Mesopotamians already had a basic knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, and chemistry, and that they used symptoms to identify common diseases. During the following 2,000 years, as Mesopotamian culture became increasingly sophisticated, mathematics in particular became a flourishing science. Knowledge accumulated rapidly, and by 1000 bc the earliest private libraries had appeared.
Southwest of Mesopotamia, in the Nile Valley of northeastern Africa, the ancient Egyptians developed their own form of pictographic script, writing on papyrus, or inscribing text in stone. Written records from 1500 bc show that, like the Mesopotamians, the Egyptians had a detailed knowledge of diseases. They were also keen astronomers and skilled mathematicians—a fact demonstrated by the almost perfect symmetry of the pyramids and by other remarkable structures they built.
|A||The Rise of Rationalism|
For the peoples of Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, knowledge was recorded mainly for practical needs. For example, astronomical observations enabled the development of early calendars, which helped in organizing the farming year. But in ancient Greece, often recognized as the birthplace of Western science, a new kind of scientific enquiry began. Here, philosophers sought knowledge largely for its own sake.
Thales of Miletus was one of the first Greek philosophers to seek natural causes for natural phenomena. He traveled widely throughout Egypt and the Middle East and became famous for predicting a solar eclipse that occurred in 585 bc. At a time when people regarded eclipses as ominous, inexplicable, and frightening events, his prediction marked the start of rationalism, a belief that the universe can be explained by reason alone. Rationalism remains the hallmark of science to this day.
Thales and his successors speculated about the nature of matter and of Earth itself. Thales himself believed that Earth was a flat disk floating on water, but the followers of Pythagoras, one of ancient Greece’s most celebrated mathematicians, believed that Earth was spherical. These followers also thought that Earth moved in a circular orbit—not around the Sun but around a central fire. Although flawed and widely disputed, this bold suggestion marked an important development in scientific thought: the idea that Earth might not be, after all, the center of the universe. At the other end of the spectrum of scientific thought, the Greek philosopher Leucippus and his student Democritus of Abdera proposed that all matter is made up of indivisible atoms, more than 2,000 years before the idea became a part of modern science.
As well as investigating natural phenomena, ancient Greek philosophers also studied the nature of reasoning. At the two great schools of Greek philosophy in Athens—the Academy, founded by Plato, and the Lyceum, founded by Plato’s pupil Aristotle—students learned how to reason in a structured way using logic. The methods taught at these schools included induction, which involves taking particular cases and using them to draw general conclusions, and deduction, the process of correctly inferring new facts from something already known.
In the two centuries that followed Aristotle’s death in 322 bc, Greek philosophers made remarkable progress in a number of fields. By comparing the Sun’s height above the horizon in two different places, the mathematician, astronomer, and geographer Eratosthenes calculated Earth’s circumference, producing a figure accurate to within 1 percent. Another celebrated Greek mathematician, Archimedes, laid the foundations of mechanics. He also pioneered the science of hydrostatics, the study of the behavior of fluids at rest (see Fluid Mechanics). In the life sciences, Theophrastus founded the science of botany, providing detailed and vivid descriptions of a wide variety of plant species as well as investigating the germination process in seeds.
By the 1st century bc, Roman power was growing and Greek influence had begun to wane. During this period, the Egyptian geographer and astronomer Ptolemy charted the known planets and stars (see Ptolemaic System), putting Earth firmly at the center of the universe, and Galen, a physician of Greek origin, wrote important works on anatomy and physiology. Although skilled soldiers, lawyers, engineers, and administrators, the Romans had little interest in basic science. As a result, scientific growth made little advancement in the days of the Roman Empire. In Athens, the Lyceum and Academy were closed down in ad 529, bringing the first flowering of rationalism to an end.
|B||Chinese and Islamic Science|
For over nine centuries, from about ad 500 to 1400, Western Europe made only a minor contribution to scientific thought. European philosophers became preoccupied with alchemy, a secretive and mystical pseudoscience that held out the illusory promise of turning inferior metals into gold. Alchemy did lead to some discoveries, such as sulfuric acid, which was first described in the early 1300s, but elsewhere, particularly in China and the Arab world, much more significant progress in the sciences was made.
Chinese science developed in isolation from Europe, and followed a different pattern. Unlike the Greeks, who prized knowledge as an end in itself, the Chinese excelled at turning scientific discoveries to practical ends. The list of their technological achievements is dazzling: it includes the compass, invented in about ad 270; woodblock printing, developed around 700, and gunpowder and movable type, both invented around the year 1000. The Chinese were also capable mathematicians and excellent astronomers. In mathematics, they calculated the value of pi to within seven decimal places by the year 600, while in astronomy, one of their most celebrated observations was that of the supernova, or stellar explosion, that took place in the Crab Nebula in 1054. China was also the source of the world’s oldest portable star map, dating from about 940.
The Islamic world, which in medieval times extended as far west as Spain, also produced many scientific breakthroughs. The Arab mathematician Muhammad al-Khw?rizm? introduced Hindu-Arabic numerals to Europe many centuries after they had been devised in southern Asia. Unlike the numerals used by the Romans, Hindu-Arabic numerals include zero, a mathematical device unknown in Europe at the time. The value of Hindu-Arabic numerals depends on their place: in the number 300, for example, the numeral three is worth ten times as much as in 30. Al-Khw?rizm? also wrote on algebra (itself derived from the Arab word al-jabr), and his name survives in the word algorithm, a concept of great importance in modern computing.
In astronomy, Arab observers charted the heavens, giving many of the brightest stars the names we use today, such as Aldebaran, Altair, and Deneb. Arab scientists also explored chemistry, developing methods to manufacture metallic alloys and test the quality and purity of metals. As in mathematics and astronomy, Arab chemists left their mark in some of the names they used—alkali and alchemy, for example, are both words of Arabic origin. Arab scientists also played a part in developing physics. One of the most famous Egyptian physicists, Alhazen, published a book that dealt with the principles of lenses, mirrors, and other devices used in optics. In this work, he rejected the then-popular idea that eyes give out light rays. Instead, he correctly deduced that eyes work when light rays enter the eye from outside.
|C||Revival of European Science|
In Europe, historians often attribute the rebirth of science to a political event—the capture of Constantinople (now ?stanbul) by the Turks in 1453. At the time, Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire and a major seat of learning. Its downfall led to an exodus of Greek scholars to the West. In the period that followed, many scientific works, including those originally from the Arab world, were translated into European languages. Through the invention of the movable type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg around 1450, copies of these texts became widely available.
The Black Death, a recurring outbreak of bubonic plague that began in 1347, disrupted the progress of science in Europe for more than two centuries. But in 1543 two books were published that had a profound impact on scientific progress. One was De Corporis Humani Fabrica (On the Structure of the Human Body, 7 volumes, 1543), by the Belgian anatomist Andreas Vesalius. Vesalius studied anatomy in Italy, and his masterpiece, which was illustrated by superb woodcuts, corrected errors and misunderstandings about the body that had persisted since the time of Galen over 1,300 years before. Unlike Islamic physicians, whose religion prohibited them from dissecting human cadavers, Vesalius investigated the human body in minute detail. As a result, he set new standards in anatomical science, creating a reference work of unique and lasting value.
The other book of great significance published in 1543 was De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), written by the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. In it, Copernicus rejected the idea that Earth was the center of the universe, as proposed by Ptolemy in the 1st century bc. Instead, he set out to prove that Earth, together with the other planets, follows orbits around the Sun. Other astronomers opposed Copernicus’s ideas, and more ominously, so did the Roman Catholic Church. In the early 1600s, the church placed the book on a list of forbidden works, where it remained for over two centuries. Despite this ban and despite the book’s inaccuracies (for instance, Copernicus believed that Earth’s orbit was circular rather than elliptical), De Revolutionibus remained a momentous achievement. It also marked the start of a conflict between science and religion that has dogged Western thought ever since.
In the first decade of the 17th century, the invention of the telescope provided independent evidence to support Copernicus’s views. Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei used the new device to remarkable effect. He became the first person to observe satellites circling Jupiter, the first to make detailed drawings of the surface of the Moon, and also the first to see how Venus waxes and wanes as it circles the Sun.
These observations of Venus helped to convince Galileo that Copernicus’s Sun-centered view of the universe had been correct, but he fully understood the danger of supporting such heretical ideas. His Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemaic and Copernican, published in 1632, was carefully crafted to avoid controversy. Even so, he was summoned before the Inquisition (tribunal established by the pope for judging heretics) the following year and, under threat of torture, forced to recant.
In less contentious areas, European scientists made rapid progress on many fronts in the 17th century. Galileo himself investigated the laws governing falling objects, and discovered that the duration of a pendulum’s swing is constant for any given length. He explored the possibility of using this to control a clock, an idea that his son put into practice in 1641. Two years later another Italian, mathematician and physicist Evangelista Torricelli, made the first barometer. In doing so he discovered atmospheric pressure and produced the first artificial vacuum known to science. In 1650 German physicist Otto von Guericke invented the air pump. He is best remembered for carrying out a demonstration of the effects of atmospheric pressure. Von Guericke joined two large, hollow bronze hemispheres, and then pumped out the air within them to form a vacuum. To illustrate the strength of the vacuum, von Guericke showed how two teams of eight horses pulling in opposite directions could not separate the hemispheres. Yet the hemispheres fell apart as soon as air was let in.
Throughout the 17th century major advances occurred in the life sciences, including the discovery of the circulatory system by the English physician William Harvey and the discovery of microorganisms by the Dutch microscope maker Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. In England, Robert Boyle established modern chemistry as a full-fledged science, while in France, philosopher and scientist René Descartes made numerous discoveries in mathematics, as well as advancing the case for rationalism in scientific research.
But the century’s greatest achievements came in 1665, when the English physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton fled from Cambridge to his rural birthplace in Woolsthorpe to escape an epidemic of the plague. There, in the course of a single year, he made a series of extraordinary breakthroughs, including new theories about the nature of light and gravitation and the development of calculus. Newton is perhaps best known for his proof that the force of gravity extends throughout the universe and that all objects attract each other with a precisely defined and predictable force. Gravity holds the Moon in its orbit around the Earth and is the principal cause of the Earth’s tides. These discoveries revolutionized how people viewed the universe and they marked the birth of modern science.
|D||The Age of Enlightenment|
Newton’s work demonstrated that nature was governed by basic rules that could be identified using the scientific method. This new approach to nature and discovery liberated 18th-century scientists from passively accepting the wisdom of ancient writings or religious authorities that had never been tested by experiment. In what became known as the Age of Reason, or the Age of Enlightenment, scientists in the 18th century began to actively apply rational thought, careful observation, and experimentation to solve a variety of problems.
Advances in the life sciences saw the gradual erosion of the theory of spontaneous generation, a long-held notion that life could spring from nonliving matter. It also brought the beginning of scientific classification, pioneered by the Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, who classified close to 12,000 living plants and animals into a systematic arrangement.
By 1700 the first steam engine had been built. Improvements in the telescope enabled German-born British astronomer Sir William Herschel to discover the planet Uranus in 1781. Throughout the 18th century science began to play an increasing role in everyday life. New manufacturing processes revolutionized the way that products were made, heralding the Industrial Revolution. In An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, Scottish economist Adam Smith stressed the advantages of division of labor and advocated the use of machinery to increase production. He urged governments to allow individuals to compete within a free market in order to produce fair prices and maximum social benefit. Smith’s work for the first time gave economics the stature of an independent subject of study and his theories greatly influenced the course of economic thought for more than a century.
|E||The 19th Century|
With knowledge in all branches of science accumulating rapidly, scientists began to specialize in particular fields. Specialization did not necessarily mean that discoveries were specialized as well: From the 19th century onward, research began to uncover principles that unite the universe as a whole.
In chemistry, one of these discoveries was a conceptual one: that all matter is made of atoms. Originally debated in ancient Greece, atomic theory was revived in a modern form by the English chemist John Dalton in 1803. Dalton provided clear and convincing chemical proof that such particles exist. He discovered that each atom has a characteristic mass and that atoms remain unchanged when they combine with other atoms to form compound substances. Dalton used atomic theory to explain why substances always combine in fixed proportions—a field of study known as quantitative chemistry. In 1869 Russian chemist Dmitry Mendeleyev used Dalton’s discoveries about atoms and their behavior to draw up his periodic table of the elements.
Other 19th-century discoveries in chemistry included the world’s first synthetic fertilizer, manufactured in England in 1842. In 1846 German chemist Christian Schoenbein accidentally developed the powerful and unstable explosive nitrocellulose. The discovery occurred after he had spilled a mixture of nitric and sulfuric acids and then mopped it up with a cotton apron. After the apron had been hung up to dry, it exploded. He later learned that the cellulose in the cotton apron combined with the acids to form a highly flammable explosive.
In 1828 the German chemist Friedrich Wöhler showed that it was possible to make carbon-containing, organic compounds from inorganic ingredients, a breakthrough that opened up an entirely new field of research. By the end of the 19th century, hundreds of organic compounds had been synthesized, including mauve, magenta, and other synthetic dyes, as well as aspirin, still one of the world’s most useful drugs.
In physics, the 19th century is remembered chiefly for research into electricity and magnetism, which were pioneered by physicists such as Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell of Great Britain. In 1821 Faraday demonstrated that a moving magnet could set an electric current flowing in a conductor. This experiment and others he performed led to the development of electric motors and generators. While Faraday’s genius lay in discovery by experiment, Maxwell produced theoretical breakthroughs of even greater note. Maxwell’s famous equations, devised in 1864, use mathematics to explain the interactions between electric and magnetic fields. His work demonstrated the principles behind electromagnetic waves, created when electric and magnetic fields oscillate simultaneously. Maxwell realized that light was a form of electromagnetic energy, but he also thought that the complete electromagnetic spectrum must include many other forms of waves as well. With the discovery of radio waves by German physicist Heinrich Hertz in 1888 and X rays by German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895, Maxwell’s ideas were proved correct. In 1897 British physicist Sir Joseph J. Thomson discovered the electron, a subatomic particle with a negative charge. This discovery countered the long-held notion that atoms were the basic unit of matter.
As in chemistry, these 19th-century discoveries in physics proved to have immense practical value. No one was more adept at harnessing them than American physicist and prolific inventor Thomas Edison. Working from his laboratories in Menlo Park, New Jersey, Edison devised the carbon-granule microphone in 1877, which greatly improved the recently invented telephone. He also invented the phonograph, the electric light bulb (see Incandescent Lamp), several kinds of batteries, and the electric meter. Edison was granted over 1,000 patents for electrical devices, a phenomenal feat for a man who had no formal schooling.
|E3||Earth Sciences and Astronomy|
In the earth sciences, the 19th century was a time of controversy, with scientists debating Earth’s age. Estimates ranged from less than 100,000 years to several hundred million years. In astronomy, greatly improved optical instruments enabled important discoveries to be made. The first observation of an asteroid, Ceres, took place in 1801. Astronomers had long noticed that Uranus exhibited an unusual orbit. French astronomer Urbain Jean Joseph Leverrier predicted that another planet nearby caused Uranus’s odd orbit. Using mathematical calculations, he narrowed down where such a planet would be located in the sky. In 1846, with the help of German astronomer Johann Galle, Leverrier discovered Neptune. The Irish astronomer William Parsons, the third Earl of Rosse, became the first person to see the spiral form of galaxies beyond our own solar system. He did this with the Leviathan, a 183-cm (72-in) reflecting telescope, built on the grounds of his estate in Parsonstown (now Birr), Ireland, in the 1840s. His observations were hampered by Ireland’s damp and cloudy climate, but his gigantic telescope remained the world’s largest for over 70 years.
In the 19th century the study of microorganisms became increasingly important, particularly after French biologist Louis Pasteur revolutionized medicine by correctly deducing that some microorganisms are involved in disease. In the 1880s Pasteur devised methods of immunizing people against diseases by deliberately treating them with weakened forms of the disease-causing organisms themselves. Pasteur’s vaccine against rabies was a milestone in the field of immunization, one of the most effective forms of preventive medicine the world has yet seen. In the area of industrial science, Pasteur invented the process of pasteurization to help prevent the spread of disease through milk and other foods.
Also during the 19th century, the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel laid the foundations of genetics, although his work, published in 1866, was not recognized until after the century had closed. But the British scientist Charles Darwin towers above all other scientists of the 19th century. His publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859 marked a major turning point for both biology and human thought. His theory of evolution by natural selection (independently and simultaneously developed by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace) initiated a violent controversy that still has not subsided. Particularly controversial was Darwin’s theory that humans resulted from a long process of biological evolution from apelike ancestors. The greatest opposition to Darwin’s ideas came from those who believed that the Bible was an exact and literal statement of the origin of the world and of humans. Although the general public initially castigated Darwin’s ideas, by the late 1800s most biologists had accepted that evolution occurred, although not all agreed on the mechanism, known as natural selection, that Darwin proposed.
In the 20th century, scientists achieved spectacular advances in the fields of genetics, medicine, social sciences, technology, and physics.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the life sciences entered a period of rapid progress. Mendel’s work in genetics was rediscovered in 1900, and by 1910 biologists had become convinced that genes are located in chromosomes, the threadlike structures that contain proteins and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). During the 1940s American biochemists discovered that DNA taken from one kind of bacterium could influence the characteristics of another. From these experiments, it became clear that DNA is the chemical that makes up genes and thus the key to heredity.
After American biochemist James Watson and British biophysicist Francis Crick established the structure of DNA in 1953, geneticists became able to understand heredity in chemical terms. Since then, progress in this field has been astounding. Scientists have identified the complete genome, or genetic catalog, of the human body (see Human Genome Project). In many cases, scientists now know how individual genes become activated and what effects they have in the human body. Genes can now be transferred from one species to another, side-stepping the normal processes of heredity and creating hybrid organisms that are unknown in the natural world (see Transgenic Organism).
At the turn of the 20th century, Dutch physician Christiaan Eijkman showed that disease can be caused not only by microorganisms but by a dietary deficiency of certain substances now called vitamins. In 1909 German bacteriologist Paul Ehrlich introduced the world’s first bactericide, a chemical designed to kill specific kinds of bacteria without killing the patient’s cells as well. Following the discovery of penicillin in 1928 by British bacteriologist Sir Alexander Fleming, antibiotics joined medicine’s chemical armory, making the fight against bacterial infection almost a routine matter. Antibiotics cannot act against viruses, but vaccines have been used to great effect to prevent some of the deadliest viral diseases. Smallpox, once a worldwide killer, was completely eradicated by the late 1970s, and in the United States the number of polio cases dropped from 38,000 in the 1950s to less than 10 a year by the 21st century.
By the middle of the 20th century scientists believed they were well on the way to treating, preventing, or eradicating many of the most deadly infectious diseases that had plagued humankind for centuries. But by the 1980s the medical community’s confidence in its ability to control infectious diseases had been shaken by the emergence of new types of disease-causing microorganisms. New cases of tuberculosis developed, caused by bacteria strains that were resistant to antibiotics. New, deadly infections for which there was no known cure also appeared, including the viruses that cause hemorrhagic fever and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
In other fields of medicine, the diagnosis of disease has been revolutionized by the use of new imaging techniques, including magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography. Scientists were also on the verge of success in curing some diseases using gene therapy, in which the insertion of normal or genetically altered genes into a patient’s cells replaces nonfunctional or missing genes.
Improved drugs and new tools have made surgical operations that were once considered impossible now routine. For instance, drugs that suppress the immune system enable the transplant of organs or tissues with a reduced risk of rejection (see Medical Transplantation). Endoscopy permits the diagnosis and surgical treatment of a wide variety of ailments using minimally invasive surgery. Advances in high-speed fiber-optic connections permit surgery on a patient using robotic instruments controlled by surgeons at another location. Known as telemedicine, this form of medicine makes it possible for skilled physicians to treat patients in remote locations or places that lack medical help.
In the 20th century the social sciences emerged from relative obscurity to become prominent fields of research. Austrian physician Sigmund Freud founded the practice of psychoanalysis, creating a revolution in psychology that led him to be called the ‘Copernicus of the mind.” In 1948 the American biologist Alfred Kinsey published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, which proved to be one of the best-selling scientific works of all time. Although criticized for his methodology and conclusions, Kinsey succeeded in making human sexuality an acceptable subject for scientific research.
The 20th century also brought dramatic discoveries in the field of anthropology, with new fossil finds helping to piece together the story of human evolution. A completely new and surprising source of anthropological information became available from studies of the DNA in mitochondria, cell structures that provide energy to fuel the cell’s activities. Mitochondrial DNA has been used to track certain genetic diseases and to trace the ancestry of a variety of organisms, including humans.
In the field of communications, Italian electrical engineer Guglielmo Marconi sent his first radio signal across the Atlantic Ocean in 1901. American inventor Lee De Forest invented the triode, or vacuum tube, in 1906. The triode eventually became a key component in nearly all early radio, radar, television, and computer systems. In 1920 Scottish engineer John Logie Baird developed the Baird Televisor, a primitive television that provided the first transmission of a recognizable moving image. In the 1920s and 1930s American electronic engineer Vladimir Kosma Zworykin significantly improved the television’s picture and reception. In 1935 British physicist Sir Robert Watson-Watt used reflected radio waves to locate aircraft in flight. Radar signals have since been reflected from the Moon, planets, and stars to learn their distance from Earth and to track their movements (see Radar Astronomy).
In 1947 American physicists John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley invented the transistor, an electronic device used to control or amplify an electrical current. Transistors are much smaller, far less expensive, require less power to operate, and are considerably more reliable than triodes. Since their first commercial use in hearing aids in 1952, transistors have replaced triodes in virtually all applications.
During the 1950s and early 1960s minicomputers were developed using transistors rather than triodes. Earlier computers, such as the electronic numerical integrator and computer (ENIAC), first introduced in 1946 by American physicist John W. Mauchly and American electrical engineer John Presper Eckert, Jr., used as many as 18,000 triodes and filled a large room. But the transistor initiated a trend toward microminiaturization, in which individual electronic circuits can be reduced to microscopic size. This drastically reduced the computer’s size, cost, and power requirements and eventually enabled the development of electronic circuits with processing speeds measured in billionths of a second .
Further miniaturization led in 1971 to the first microprocessor—a computer on a chip. When combined with other specialized chips, the microprocessor becomes the central arithmetic and logic unit of a computer smaller in size than a portable typewriter. With their small size and a price less than that of a used car, today’s personal computers are many times more powerful than the physically huge, multimillion-dollar computers of the 1950s. Once used only by large businesses, computers are now used by professionals, small retailers, and students to perform a wide variety of everyday tasks, such as keeping data on clients, tracking budgets, and writing school reports. People also use computers to interface with worldwide communications networks, such as the Internet and the World Wide Web, to send and receive e-mail, to shop, or to find information on just about any subject.
During the early 1950s public interest in space exploration developed. The focal event that opened the space age was the International Geophysical Year from July 1957 to December 1958, during which hundreds of scientists around the world coordinated their efforts to measure the Earth’s near-space environment. As part of this study, both the United States and the Soviet Union announced that they would launch artificial satellites into orbit for nonmilitary space activities.
When the Soviet Union launched the first Sputnik satellite in 1957, the feat spurred the United States to intensify its own space exploration efforts. In 1958 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was founded for the purpose of developing human spaceflight. Throughout the 1960s NASA experienced its greatest growth. Among its achievements, NASA designed, manufactured, tested, and eventually used the Saturn rocket and the Apollo spacecraft for the first manned landing on the Moon in 1969 (see Apollo Program). In the 1960s and 1970s, NASA also developed the first robotic space probes to explore the planets Mercury, Venus, and Mars (see Mariner). The success of the Mariner probes paved the way for the unmanned exploration of the outer planets in Earth’s solar system.
In the 1970s through 1990s, NASA focused its space exploration efforts on a reusable space shuttle, which was first deployed in 1981. In 1998 the space shuttle, along with its Russian counterpart known as Soyuz, became the workhorses that enabled the construction of the International Space Station.
In 1900 the German physicist Max Planck proposed the then sensational idea that energy is not infinitely divisible but is always given off in set amounts, or quanta. Five years later, German-born American physicist Albert Einstein successfully used quanta to explain the photoelectric effect, which is the release of electrons when metals are bombarded by light. This, together with Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity, challenged some of the most fundamental assumptions of the Newtonian era.
Unlike the laws of classical physics, quantum theory deals with events that occur on the smallest of scales. Quantum theory explains how subatomic particles form atoms, and how atoms interact when they combine to form chemical compounds. Quantum theory deals with a world where the attributes of any single particle can never be completely known—an idea known as the uncertainty principle, put forward by the German physicist Werner Heisenberg in 1927. But while there is uncertainty on the subatomic level, quantum physics successfully predicts the overall outcome of subatomic events, a fact that firmly relates it to the macroscopic world—that is, the one in which we live.
In 1934 Italian-born American physicist Enrico Fermi began a series of experiments in which he used neutrons (subatomic particles without an electric charge) to bombard atoms of various elements, including uranium. The neutrons combined with the nuclei of the uranium atoms to produce what he thought were elements heavier than uranium, known as transuranium elements. In 1939 other scientists demonstrated that in these experiments Fermi had not formed heavier elements, but instead had achieved the splitting, or fission, of the uranium atom’s nucleus. These early experiments led to the development of fission as both an energy source (see Nuclear Energy) and a weapon (see Atomic Bomb).
These fission studies, coupled with the development of particle accelerators in the 1950s, initiated a long and remarkable journey into the nature of subatomic particles that continues today. Far from being indivisible, scientists now know that atoms are made up of 12 fundamental particles known as quarks and leptons, which combine in different ways to make all the kinds of matter currently known.
Advances in particle physics have been closely linked to progress in cosmology. From the 1920s onward, when the American astronomer Edwin Hubble showed that the universe is expanding, cosmologists have sought to rewind the clock and establish how the universe began. Today, most scientists believe that the universe started with a cosmic explosion some time between 10 and 20 billion years ago (see Big Bang Theory). However, the exact sequence of events surrounding its birth, and its ultimate fate, are still matters of ongoing debate.