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SUBJECT:
Understanding our world
Natural phenomena – the wind, rain and stars – have been a source of wonder since the beginning of history. Our diverse cultures continue to study them with a mixture of awe and logic. There have been practical considerations, such as the need to know the best time to plant crops and to move animals. But there is also an intellectual challenge. We seek to gain psychological control over natural phenomena by bringing them within our intellectual framework. The Science Museum has a superb collection of scientific instruments, including telescopes, weather gauges and mathematical tools. The beauty of mathematics is reflected in the sinuous shapes of the Klein bottle, for example. This search for understanding is not limited to professional scientists. There are many amateur astronomers, encouraged by books, magazines and programmes such as The Sky at Night. While some people enjoy the intellectual pleasure of studying mathematics, most of us hate doing it, but we all use it in our everyday lives. We all like to guess what the weather is going to be, and we poke fun at professional meteorologists when they get it wrong. Can anyone really predict the weather?
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Is maths beautiful or is it just a complete pain? Should we make the effort to explore its intellectual pleasures or should just find a quick fix to get the calculation done?  > more
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Michael Fish’s ‘it’s not a hurricane’ forecast of 1987 has become legendary, but duff weather forecasts are no joke. Inaccurate forecasting costs the British economy billions of pounds a year. Why is it so hard to predict the weather more than a day or two ahead? Does the problem lie with the Meteorological Office, the language that Michael Fish and his colleague use, or is the weather inherently difficult to predict?  > more
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Over the centuries, numerous people have studied the heavens. For some of them, it became an obsession. Our current understanding of the universe has developed from their determination to watch the sky, night after night. Astronomy remains a popular hobby and will remain so as new generations are inspired by the beauty of the heavens.  > more
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The phrase 'time is money' was coined by Benjamin Franklin at the start of the Industrial Revolution. But was this obsession with time really the fault of industrialists?  > more
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Although he’s one of the most famous scientists in history, few people could really describe Albert Einstein’s theories. Instead we recognise an icon who has come to represent science. His work reshaped our idea of physics, with profound consequences. His persona gave us an opportunity to put a face to the complex and the clever.  > more
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The story of mauve, one of the first synthetic dyes to be discovered, is also a story about Britain failing to capitalise on a home-grown invention  > more
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Incorporating scientific advances into our culture is not easy. While we accept that science is responsible for material benefits, we also see it as an alien force undermining our way of life.
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