Showing posts with label SciTech. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SciTech. Show all posts

31 December 2011

Systems of measurement

Everyone is familiar with measuring things, but two American authors have taken systems of measurement to what might be a logical conclusion. Their paper is a good read for anyone with a little science background.

Measuring devices
When we think of measurement most of us think of rulers, tape measures, kitchen and bathroom scales, filling up with petrol or how much paint to buy to redecorate the lounge. And it's true - all of these things involve measurement.

But when we talk about a system of measurement we are referring to a coherent, complete and consistent set of defined units that will allow us to measure anything. The best known system of measurement is the SI standard that has been officially adopted by every nation apart from the USA, Liberia and Myanmar. Amongst older systems of measurement the CGS, Imperial and Avoirdupois (mass units only) are some of the best known. And historically there have been many systems going way back to ancient Babylonian times and before.

But we can work in a much more fundamental way (though for practical reasons we normally choose not to). A recent paper by L Hsu and J Hsu from the Universities of Minnesota and Massachusetts shows how this can be done. They define everything in terms of time though they point out that any other fundamental unit could have done the job. In passing it becomes clear why time and space can be combined as space-time and how some fundamental constants are more fundamental than others.

This system is what is known as a natural system of units.

Fascinating stuff. Anyone can read the paper as it's not particularly complex, though school level physics and maths will be needed to follow the detailed reasoning.


26 December 2011

Recycling Christmas tree lights


In China, waste Christmas tree lights are converted into chopped copper and brass for reuse and plastic feedstock for slipper soles.

Christmas tree lightsChina has become a powerhouse for recycling, and they're now making great strides in terms of cleaner, more environmentally-friendly recycling.

The insulation on junked electrical cable used to be burned off so that the copper could be extracted for refining and reuse. But today, in China, the plastic insulation is recovered and sold as a feedstock for shoe sole manufacturers. Even the water used in the processing is reused in the plant, nothing is dumped back into the environment.

The factory described in this article and video on 'The Atlantic' website takes in unwanted Christmas tree lights, sells copper, brass and plastic feedstock,  and consumes only electrical energy and a modest amount of water which is returned to the atmosphere as vapour.

That is a shining (groan) example of how waste can, and should, be handled. The biggest downside I can see in this is the energy cost of shipping the material halfway around the world rather than disposing of it locally.

23 December 2011

Atlas detector built in Lego

A Lego model of the huge ATLAS detector at CERN has been built by Sascha Mehlhase. The model itself is intricate and took a lot of work to design and build.

ATLAS in Lego
ATLAS has been in the news recently. It's a huge particle detector at the European particle physics lab CERN on the Swiss/French border. It's been in the news because it has found encouraging evidence for the Higgs boson, a much sought-after fundamental particle predicted by the leading theory of particle physics, the Standard Model. That model stands or falls on the existence or absence of the Higgs.

The detection of the Higgs is fundamental in every sense of the word, but it is not yet secure. The evidence from ATLAS is not yet adequate - a strong hint rather than a definite find. But ATLAS will collect more data next year and that should be enough to decide for sure.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a vast machine and ATLAS (just one of the LHC's detectors) is itself a very large and expensive multi-storey construction.

Sascha Mehlhase has built a model of Atlas entirely of Lego bricks, quite an achievement in itself. The design and construction took more than eighty hours work and contains nearly ten thousand bricks.

26 November 2011

Recovering a portrait of da Vinci

Here's a great example of image recovery, a sketched self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci was discovered a couple of years ago, obscured when he reused the page as writing material.

Leonardo da VinciThe image has been recovered twice, once by professionals and then more recently (and much more quickly) by Amelia Carolina Sparavigna using freely downloadable software from the internet. You can read the story and see the results of her efforts on MIT's 'Technology Review'.

The self portrait shows Leonardo as a young man, the only other existing self-portrait is one he made when he was old (this is the image shown here).

It's fascinating how the text can be removed and at every point automatically replaced by an average of the surrounding area. That's what Amelia Carolina Sparavigna did using the packages she downloaded. She used The Gimp (image processing software) to superimpose the young face on the old face to check whether the eyes, nose and mouth showed the same relative spacings. They did! This helps to confirm that both portraits are of the same person - we may get wrinkles as we age but the proportions of our face remain the same.

Kudos to Amelia, but also to the science journalist who first noticed the presence of a portrait underlying da Vinci's text on bird flight.

29 October 2011

TECHNOLOGY - Ecotricity

Ecotricity is the utilities company that Donna and I use for our gas and electricity supplies. They are a company with a difference, quite unlike any other energy company in the UK and perhaps in the world - unless you know different...

Part of ecotricity's websiteWe switched to 'ecotricity' some years ago when they were smaller than they are now. They're still far smaller than their competitors and getting started in competition with international giants was no walk in the park.

But Dale Vince who founded and runs 'ecotricity' is full of unusual and effective ideas. He's also determined to make a difference and change the way we obtain and sell energy. Read Dale's blog for more on his thinking about green energy.

'Ecotricity' is different from the rest because it was built around a green and clean model. Take a look at their awards page to see how well they have been doing with that objective.

For electricity, their current mix is about 60% green (mostly wind energy). For customers like us who opt for a slightly higher cost plan, it's 100% green. And the profit earned by the company goes into new green generating capacity.

If you live in the UK please consider switching to 'ecotricity'. And if you live elsewhere in the world maybe you could build a windmill and go into business yourself!

23 October 2011

TECHNOLOGY - Robotic cyclist

A Japanese hobbyist has built a robot cyclist. The video is quite amazing to watch.

The robot is much smaller than human size and this will account in part for the sometimes erratic and wobbly ride. But it's an impressive achievement. It's not the first time a robotic cyclist has been built, but as far as I know this is the smallest.


One day, no model railway will be complete with tiny robotic pedestrians, cyclists and road vehicles moving around the tiny landscape. Now there's a thought!

05 October 2011

TECHNOLOGY - LibreOffice

If you use or need an office suite, it's worth considering LibreOffice. There are a number of reasons for this and some of them may surprise you.

LibreOffice in use
Microsoft Office (MS Office) undoubtedly remains the most widely used office suite today. I say 'most widely used' rather than 'most popular' because so many people have criticisms of it. The most unpopular feature is probably 'The Ribbon' that provides access to the multitude of commands and features.

Other major criticisms are the sheer bulk of the program code, the considerable purchase cost, slow loading and performance, cost of upgrading to newer versions, and the licencing terms.



What are the alternatives? There are some other commercial offerings but these still have some of the same issues and do cost money, albeit it often less than the price of MS Office.

But you may not realise there are two free alternatives with a comprehensive range of features. OpenOffice and LibreOffice are both freely downloadable, you can give copies away to friends, families and colleagues (this is legal and encouraged), there are versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux (LibreOffice comes as standard with Ubuntu and many other versions of Linux).

OpenOffice and LibreOffice have a common history but LibreOffice is beginning to look like the front runner. Check out Google's list of review articles on LibreOffice.

I strongly urge you to give LibreOffice a try. It's free, so what have you got to lose? It contains everything you need - word processor, spreadsheet, business presentation, graphics, maths editor, and database. All are built to professional standards, can load and save in a range of file types (including MS Office formats), can save PDFs, are regularly updated and upgrades are, of course, free. If you need more information, take a peek at the manuals and user guides (you might like to start with the introduction).

03 October 2011

TECHNOLOGY - Reusable rockets

SpaceX is an innovative space launch company with a number of impressive 'firsts' to their name and a large order book of reservations for satellite launches on their Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 vehicles.

The planet MarsThe company was founded by Elon Musk using capital earned by his earlier IT businesses, particularly PayPal which was sold in 2002 for $1.5 billion. Musk's share was more than 10% enabling him to start SpaceX as well as the electric car company, Tesla.

In September 2008 Falcon 1 achieved earth orbit, the first time a privately owned company had orbited a liquid fuelled rocket. All previous successes were by the government programs of a variety of nations.

In June 2010 Falcon 9, a much larger vehicle, also flew successfully to orbit. And in December 2010 Falcon 9 flew again, this time carrying a Dragon capsule which completed two orbits, successfully re-entered, splashed down and was recovered. This was another first for a private company.



A heavy rocket is planned (Falcon 9 Heavy) and a demonstration flight to dock Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS) is due in 2012.

But now, SpaceX has announced plans for full reusability. If they can pull this off it will be an utter game-changer, reducing the cost to orbit by perhaps 100 times.

Elon's recent presentation to the US National Press Club explains the reason for the attempt to operate a reusable rocket. His long term goal is nothing less than to colonise Mars. This might sound crazy, but he has a track record of doing things that were thought to be impossible. So maybe he will succeed. If anyone can, Elon and SpaceX can!

18 September 2011

TECHNOLOGY - A trip on the ISS

How amazing to watch the earth as the International Space Station whizzes past. This video was made by James Drake from a long series of still images. You can see land, ocean, clouds, cities, and thunderstorms as well as the edge of the atmosphere and a brilliant sunrise.


For best results view the video in HD at YouTube. Visit the item on James Drake's blog for more information. But meanwhile consider just what you've been seeing...

The Space Station (ISS) orbits up to 16 times daily at a height of 280 to 450 km and typically travels at 27 700 km/hr. The stars, city lights, and thunderstorms cannot be seen in the brightness of full daylight. The general illumination in the video is probably moonlight.

The forward looking camera is fixed so the structure of the station doesn't move in the video; and the earth rolls past beneath (although it's really the ISS that is moving). The track here is north to south, covering almost half way around the globe beginning over Canada and finishing neat Antarctica. At normal speed the video would last around forty minutes, but it's been speeded up.

Seeing this left me quite stunned. The beauty of the night-time earth and the brilliance of the arrival of day are so beautiful. And just think of all the people living their lives down below. Both North and South America pass below during this one brief video.

11 May 2011

TECHNOLOGY - Chromebook is coming!

Chromebook? What's that?!! It's Google's plan to replace operating systems with a device that does nothing but browse the web. It's a simple machine that runs the Chrome browser without a fully-fledged operating system and without any other applications. It's the ultimate in cloud computing.

The ChromebookThe Chromebook will start quickly when switched on, it needs no data backup because everything is stored in the cloud. No virus scanner is required. It never needs upgrades, security updates or anything like that; it will simply update itself when needed. This will make it extremely easy to manage and use - for example, if you lose your Chromebook you can simply buy a new one, log in, and all your documents, photos, music and other data will be just as you left it.

And just how will you create a document or edit a photo with no word processor or image software? You will use applications in the cloud. There are already perfectly adequate word processors, spreadsheets, presentation packages, email clients and much more - all using web pages for user interaction. Google Docs and Google Mail are good examples. The range of applications is growing and their capability is improving all the time. All the standard office productivity tools are readily available.

For several years I have been steadily using more and more in the way of web applications and cloud storage. I like working this way and I'm keen to get my hands on a Chromebook. The internet is almost universally available in the UK now, particularly in towns and cities so there are few places where a Chromebook would be unusable.

For the detail on Chromebook read Google's announcement and Information Week's news article. Or you can just view Google's promotional video below...


Comment - Running applications on remote servers has been a long term goal in the world of computing. From the 1980s mainframe or minicomputer displaying its output on a remote terminal, via client/server X-windows systems and Citrix servers running Windows applications remotely, to the web and cloud computing, and now the Chromebook.

In the past these systems have never quite made the big time despite the great advantages they offer IT managers in the business world. Will the Chromebook become the success that Google craves? It's hard to say.

Google has had previous good ideas but results have been mixed. Chrome and Android have done very well, Wave and OpenSocial have not. Chromebook could really fly but first it must convince ordinary non-tech users of the advantages. Since many users already spend more time browsing the web than they do working with other applications, and since web applications are already popular (especially email and social networking), there's a very good chance of success.

Time will tell.

Updates

16 March 2011

Messenger in orbit

The Mercury Messenger probe is intended to make a long burn to decelerate into Mercury orbit tomorrow (Thursday 17th March). If successful this should be the start of a year of detailed observations of the innermost planet.

The MESSENGER spacecraftIt's taken the spaceprobe six and a half years to get to the right place at the right time and at the right velocity to make a major 15 minute engine burn for capture into Mercurian orbit.

This is, frankly, an astonishing achievement. Hopefully all will go well and the prime mission will return very large amounts of new and detailed knowledge about the innermost planet.

Read more on these web pages...

30 December 2010

TECHNOLOGY - Writing on a hair

Nottingham University's Nanotechnology Centre are used to viewing and manipulating very small items. Prof Poliakoff

When it came to finding a birthday present for the Professor of Chemistry, they took a hair from his head (he has plenty to spare), wrote a copy of the periodic table onto it using a beam of gallium ions, and handed it to him in a sample tube.

The video shows the entire process and is entertaining to watch.

09 December 2010

TECHNOLOGY - SpaceX, another first

It was a privilege to be able to watch SpaceX's live webcast of the launch of their first Dragon capsule. This is a unique achievement, it's the first time a private company has put a spacecraft into orbit and safely returned it to earth.

Launch of Falcon 9 and Dragon, 8th December 2010The icing on the cake is that they also manoevered Dragon while in orbit, testing some of the moves that will be required to dock with the International Space Station (ISS). But why is all this such a great thing?

Let me explain. The human race undoubtedly has a built-in urge to explore and try out new things. We might have different views on the reason for this, and some might argue that space exploration is far too expensive to justify. But for whatever reason people have a built-in desire to explore beyond the boundaries, to go further than before, to see and understand new things.

SpaceX have done something amazing. They are a small company working on a small budget, in just eight years they have developed two launcher families and a spacecraft and have won a NASA COTS contract to resupply the ISS and return cargo to Earth. In the past only nations and groups of nations have returned a spacecraft from orbit. The Soviet Union and the United States achieved this in the early 1960s, and later China, Japan, India, and the European Space Agency (ESA) have done so too.

SpaceX was founded and is managed by Elon Musk, reinvesting some of his personal fortune earned by creating PayPal. Elon and SpaceX are determined to reduce the cost and increase the reliability of spaceflight tenfold and they have now demonstrated a realistic chance of doing so. Not only did they fly Dragon to orbit and return it intact, the spacecraft and (potentially) the first stage of Falcon 9 are reusable for multiple flights.

They have built all the hardware themselves, including the rocket engines. The designs are deliberately simple and the propulsion systems are modular and include a great deal of built-in redundancy.

Finally, Dragon and Falcon 9 were both designed with a view to launching crews to low Earth orbit. This is expected to take a further two to three years and Dragon will accomodate up to seven astronauts.

SpaceX deserve a huge round of applause for an outstanding achievement. As a recent aerospace start-up company what they have done is truly game-changing.

See all articles about SpaceX.

03 November 2010

TECHNOLOGY - The Cool Farm Tool

The Cool Farm Tool is a spreadsheet that allows farmers, growers and organisations interested in crop production to easily model greenhouse gas emissions and how they might be affected by changing production methods.

Unilever's Cool Farm ToolThe tool was originally developed for Unilever by a research team at the University of Aberdeen and is now being used on an increasing scale by individual farmers, companies buying agricultural and horticultural produce, cross company groups, researchers,  governments, and inter-governmental agencies.

The spreadsheet is published with an open source licence so it can be used, modified, and republished by anyone. It's accessible by ordinary farmers around the world and is easy to use without scientific expertise. The tool can be used to explore the effects of adjusting the methods of production to help minimise emissions.

An IPCC report in 2007, Mitigation of Climate Change provided global information, but Unilever knew they needed specific, farm or field level data if they were to make a difference. They commissioned the Cool Farm Tool as a means of obtaining this data. Much to their credit, Unilever and the University of Aberdeen decided to make the tool available for anyone to use or adapt.

There is more detail on Unilever's Growing for the Future website and in an article published by Ecosystem Marketplace.

I think this tool can really make a difference. Indeed, it must already have made a difference and will continue to do so. Well done to all concerned, especially Unilever and the University of Aberdeen. The planet needs more effort of this sort.

19 October 2010

SCIENCE - 500 planets

Not that long ago (pre 1994) we only knew of nine planets, and one of those has been demoted to dwarf planet status. Today we know of nearly 500!

An artist's impression of an exoplanet systemThe reason for the huge increase is that astronomers are discovering planets around stars other than our own Sun using several techniques.

Sometimes this can be done by accurate measurements of the parent star's brightness. If a planet orbiting the star happens to pass in front of it, it will block part of the light and the dip can be measured and timed.

Another method involves tracking the position of a star very accurately. If it wobbles to and fro ever so slightly this is evidence of a smaller object in orbit around it - a planet or a faint companion star.

More recently it's become possible to image some of these planets directly by detecting the light they reflect from their parent star. This is pretty tricky, but just about doable using current telescopes. Of course we can't see any details, the planetary image is essentially a highly blurred point source. But it's still a very impressive feat of technology.

'Discover' magazine's website presents a gallery of these images, with good explanations in terms most people will understand. It's well worth a look.

The number of exoplanets will continue to rise and will soon pass the 500 mark. And one day, with better telescopes, it may even become possible to see some basic detail on some of these planets. But that is probably a long, long way off.

See also: Fomalhaut b

05 October 2010

TECHNOLOGY - Dragon readies for launch

Most people are aware that the American Space Shuttle fleet is being retired. The last flight is currently scheduled for next year, 2011. After that, the only way Americans will be able to travel to orbit and dock at the International Space Station (ISS) will be to buy seats from the Russians.

SpaceX's Dragon capsuleThe Constellation Program that was intended to replace the Shuttle has been cut and modified several times and is unlikely to provide a crewed launch facility soon or, perhaps, ever. China has a crewed vehicle, and Europe and Japan both have operational cargo craft from which crewed vehicles might be developed. India is planning and building a crewed launch system.

What the USA does have however is something quite unique. It has several businesses designing and building crewed spacecraft as commercial ventures.

One of these is SpaceX, based in California. They launched the first of their Falcon 9 rockets carrying a dummy Dragon capsule in June 2010. In November they plan to launch another Falcon 9 with a fully functioning Dragon cargo capsule to test the re-entry and landing systems. If all goes well, next year they will be in a position to begin carrying and returning cargo for the ISS - and they already have a full order book from NASA and other clients around the world.

Dragon was designed from the ground up to be capable of carrying seven astronauts in place of cargo. SpaceX is hoping that once Dragon is proven as a reliable cargo system NASA will decide to fund its upgrade and testing as a crewed vehicle.

I wish SpaceX well and hope the mission in November will be a complete success.

(For full details and more photos visit the SpaceX Updates page.)

See also: Up, up, and away

04 October 2010

SCIENCE - The biggest collisions

We all know what happens when two objects collide, don't we? It depends on the speed of collision and the nature of the objects. Two balls of dough will stick together, billiard balls will bounce apart, slowly moving cars will stop one another, fast moving cars will crumple.

The bullet cluster collisionAt some of the largest scales imaginable colliding galaxies pass through one another in a shape-distorting ballet that takes tens of millions of years. Where there were once two spiral galaxies, eventually there will be a single elliptical galaxy. To understand this process it becomes necessary to take into account the presence of dark matter in and around the two galaxies as well as the collisions of gas and the gravitational interactions of countless stars.

But what happens at an even larger scale? What happens when clusters of galaxies collide?

To understand this process more clearly, scientists at three prestigious labs in the USA have run a very large, very complex computer simulation. It took a long time to create and run the model, but you can watch the results in a movie that takes less than three and a half minutes.

What are you watching? First you will see the dark matter interactions, then the mixing of the intergalactic gas, and finally the combination. I should mention that what you see is a series of stop-start movies. In each one some interaction is shown, then the movement stops while the stationary scene is rotated to give you a better view and help you visualise the shapes, then the action moves on again.



For more information about the simulation and what you are seeing, visit Ian O'Neill's article on Discovery News.

27 September 2010

Can decentralised control work?

Most businesses and other large organisations (government, church, military, education, medical) are based on a hierarchical command and control structure of some kind. In government, even though leaders may be selected democratically, during their term of office they work as a hierarchical structure with a prime minister or president granted overall authority.

A temperate forestIs the hierarchical model appropriate for all projects and organisations? Are there workable alternatives?

One alternative that has been demonstrated to work (and work well) is an organic approach. This is based on the way living organisms grow, flourish, and reproduce. It also depends on grasping the nettle of death and decay - this is an essential part of the process, anything that is no longer working must be discarded and recycled.

Take the growth of a forest as an example. A tree starts its life from a small seed and it has a pattern of growth, maturity, seed release, and death. The forest consists of many trees of a variety of kinds along with other plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria. All of these follow their own particular patterns of growth and reproduction and together they form an interacting ecological web that maintains itself rather well. Not only that, species will move in or decrease as climatic and other conditions change. And over periods of tens of thousands of years and upwards the species that make up the forest may evolve and fill new or unused niches that become available. Not only is the forest self-maintaining, it's also self-adapting in the long term.

Can organisations be maintained and adapted in the same way? Yes they can.

Let's take the computer operating system Ubuntu as an example. Most of us think of Microsoft Windows when we think of an operating system, or perhaps Apple's OS X. But there are many others. One of these is Linux, and Ubuntu is just one flavour of Linux.

A recent TechRadar article outlines how Ubuntu is built and managed. The Ubuntu website is the public face of the organisation where you can download your own copy (free of charge) or learn much more about what the system offers.

Compare and contrast this approach with Microsoft's proprietary and traditional business model for Windows.

The organic approach is as old as the universe itself. It works. If it didn't, we wouldn't be here.

I began by listing various kinds of organisation - business, government, church, military, education, medical. It would be easy to extend the list. The table below provides some examples of each along with generalised properties of such organisations. In practice, of course, extreme examples are rare, normally organisations fall somewhere in the continuum between hierarchical and organic and this is certainly true for the examples below. Even the most structured organisation allows (even demands) a degree of original thinking and initiative from staff; even the most organic and democratic organisation has basic rules governing behaviour.



Hierarchical

Organic

Business

Microsoft
Shell
Tesco
Unilever

Traditional high street
Village fair
Sole traders

Government  

Absolute monarchy
Dictatorship

Anarchy
Liberal democracy

Church

Orthodox
Roman Catholic

House church
Simple church

Military

Regular army

Al Qaeda

Education

University
School

Life experience
Parent/child interaction

Medical

Government service  

Private care

Properties

Command based
Controlling
Formal
Obey
Leader decides
Top down structure

Do your best
Freeing
Individual decides
Informal
Organic

So always remember that there is not just one way of doing things. There are two extremes with a whole range of possibilities between them. If you are creating or running any kind of organisation or activity, be open minded and choose the approach that will best suit your objectives.

03 May 2010

Science and faith - a view from Nature

I've just spotted a piece by Philip Ball in the journal 'Nature'. The cosmic microwave background radiationHe makes some very good points and supports my own views about the awesome behaviour of the natural world. He states,
Were I inclined to believe in an omnipotent God, I should be far more impressed by one who had intuited that a world in which natural selection operates autonomously will lead to beings that function as well as humans (for all our flaws) than by one who was constantly having to make adjustments.

Quite! Unlike Philip Ball, perhaps, I do believe in an omnipotent Prime Cause. I have often thought that the power behind the universe would have to be exceptionally clever to design physical laws that would require energy to bundle itself up in tiny packets that would interact in just the right way to form atoms of hydrogen and helium on the tiniest scales which would then coalesce gravitationally on very large scales to produce galaxies and stars.

These same physical laws ensure that stars will create all the elements up to iron and supernova explosions will synthesise the rest. Simple sugars, amino acids, and nucleotides will form in conditions that are not uncommon in the dusty discs around later populations of young stars, planets will form in these discs and life will arise almost inevitably. Once self-replicating systems are present Darwinian evolution is certain to begin its work and more and more complex life forms will appear as the millions and billions of years pass. Intelligence seems to be pretty much inevitable too.

So much from so little - indeed so much from absolutely nothing! This is one of the reasons I find it impossible not to believe in a power behind the universe. And somehow, though he might not agree, I don't think Philip Ball will hold that against me. Our positions are at the same time only slightly different yet fundamentally opposite. I believe in a Creator, he doesn't, yet we both see the same mechanisms operating and bringing about the rich universe we live in.

Truly, faith and science have no reason to argue. It saddens me greatly to see disagreements about the origin of the universe, evolution, palaeontology and the rest. It particularly saddens me as a trained scientist to see that most of the arguments against science are based on misunderstandings or false assumptions. It alarms me that matters like anthropogenic global climate change are dismissed. And it angers me when scientists' motives and morals are questioned. Scientists are not immune to mistakes or even (rarely) deliberate fraud, but the overwhelming majority are seeking for truth - verifiable, testable, truth.

(See also my previous post.)

25 April 2010

Science and faith - war or peace?

The origin of the universe, the origin of life, evolution - these are some of the topics that seem to be endlessly debated across the science/faith divide. Molecules of lifeWhy does this happen, what are the root causes of the sometimes strongly-worded arguments? Perhaps it's time to take a fresh look.

Science is based on such things as reason, deduction, inference, and testing by experiment. At the most fundamental level science is simply a formal way of observing how things are. And it has an excellent track-record. We depend daily on the technologies that science has made possible. We drive our cars, watch TV, depend on medical help when we are sick or injured. All of these things and many more are rooted in generations of observation, hypothesis, and testing.

On the other hand faith is not based on observation and experiment but on assertion, often about matters that are untestable and are unknowable in the scientific sense. The existence of a powerful personality outside the universe and this personality's influence within it are not things science can investigate. Science doesn't reject faith (indeed it might investigate faith as a phenomenon) but it does not (and cannot) investigate the claims of faith.

There is therefore no reason for science and faith to do battle with one another, but historically this has happened repeatedly. An example of past 'warfare' concerns whether the earth or the sun is the centre of the solar system, one current skirmish centres on the origin of life and on evolution, another one on theories about the origin of the universe.

The usual pattern is that science draws a conclusion that offends people of faith in some way. Instead of understanding the scientific arguments and accommodating them within the framework of faith, believers often try to find holes in the science. Scientists continually refine our understanding in a formal way, believers sometimes lash out at new ideas they don't like.

How can we take this forward? Here is some advice for scientists and believers who have become embroiled in debates of this sort.

Scientists - Don't become angry, recognise that if the science is sound you have demonstrable facts on your side. State these straightforwardly and point detractors to the evidence calmly. If you are vilified and your integrity is questioned, recognise that these are the actions of desperate people who have not yet understood that facts are a form of truth. The battle will rarely centre on those facts, instead it will usually focus on attempts to discredit the people involved. Don't engage with these attempts.

Believers - Don't interpret statements from scientists as provocation, they are simply sharing factual information. Respect the people even if you don't like their thinking. Christ called you to love so speak in love, not in anger. Look at the scientific claims calmly, facts about the world cannot possibly contradict truth. Look for ways of accepting the science within your framework of faith. Remember the battles about the place of the earth in astronomy, why is that no longer an issue? Understand that if the Almighty exists, scientific and spiritual truth will be able to coexist, because he is the author of both.

Where there appear to be contradictions there is an opportunity for mutual understanding. Science deals with the realm of materials and energy, faith deals with the realm of the spirit. There is no overlap in subject matter and there is no clash of ideas that can't be accommodated.

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