My reading choices rarely include books or magazines devoted exclusively to science. Partly that’s because I find myself more interested in subjects such as history, religion, and languages. And partly it is because in-depth explanations of science go over my head. (That might be a mixed metaphor, but if you think of science as a swimming pool, the deep part would be over my head. I can go beyond the wading pool but don’t care for going off the diving board.)
Anyway, I do enjoy “popular science” type articles that appear in general-interest magazines. Apparently these have been declining in recent years, whether because general news media didn’t think science would sell, or because science has become so specialized that it’s hard to write science news for the non-scientist. Worldmagblog reported this morning that scientists have created a new website to address this issue, and I enjoyed checking it out.
Futurity.org is all about science, but it’s written for the general public. Articles are categorized under Earth & Environment, Health & Medicine, and Science & Design. There is also a section on Society & Culture, though its articles aren’t displayed on the front page, as with the other three categories. A few of the articles dealt with news I had seen already at nationalgeographic.com, but others were new to me. (And the pages load much more quickly than at nationalgeographic, which I appreciate.)
So far, some of the articles I’ve read have told about nanodiamonds (didn’t even know there was such a thing) that have proven surprisingly effective in delivering DNA into mammalian cells (for gene therapy), the health benefits of the Wii, the microRNA of worms, and the world’s smallest semiconductor laser. I have to admit that I didn’t fully follow the discussion of plasmons in the laser article, and I’m still not sure what microRNA is. But I know that the scientists doing the research do understand it, and I am amazed at the way our collective scientific understanding continues to grow in such impressive ways.
I’m sure the few articles I read from just this month represent a tiny tip of the iceberg of the scientific research going on every day around the world. Much of it no doubt leads to dead ends, and will never show up in this or any other news source, but it still increases our knowledge in some way (if only to show that resources need to be redirected into other areas).
I have to admit that some research seems like a lot of money spent just to increase knowledge without any apparent application to justify the expenditure. Whoever first started looking at nanoparticles probably couldn’t explain how it was going to solve any real-world problems. But eventually all that painstaking work starts to show hints of possible uses, and then an explosion of possibilities of ways to save lives, reduce suffering, and reduce costs (to the environment as well as the checkbook).
How do bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics? What can a roundworm teach us about aging? How can you generate voltage using a tree? Do you eat more when having lunch with someone who is thin? Find the answers to these and many other questions. And if you don’t know what transposons are, don’t worry – probably most other reader don’t either.