Saturday, September 29, 2012

Cool Science Websites

You often hear that we're living in a golden age of scientific discovery.  That's true, but  it's also true that we're living in a golden age of science communication and education.  These days, innovative websites and visualization techniques have made it easier than ever to understand the basics of science.  The web is loaded with great free sites for learning about science and nature.

If you're interested in science in general, or in keeping track of the latest discoveries, the online versions of magazines are a great place to look. Discover Magazine has excellent articles written for laypeople, while Scientific American gets a little more into the technical details.  Science Daily is a great place to catch up on breaking news in science.  National Geographic covers more than just science, but its website has an excellent section devoted to science and nature. Public television networks are also great for science information.  PBS has a science and nature section of their website, while the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) has separate sections for science and nature.

Science and natural history museums also have some great websites.  Some of the best are the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, home of the famous Hayden Planetarium.  If you're especially interested in fossils, dinosaurs, and such, the University of California Museum of Paleontology has great online exhibits about the history of life on earth.  The museum with the best online exhibits may be the Exploratorium in San Francisco, "The Museum of Science, Art, and Human Perception". 

If you like watching videos about science and nature, the first place we recommend is one of the library's databases:  Access Video on Demand, or AVOD.  AVOD has thousands of streaming videos about all kinds of topics, including hundreds about science and nature.  There are videos from BBC, PBS, Nova, National Geographic, Scientific American Frontiers, and more.  If you like to hear great thinkers and scientists talk about their discoveries, TED offers hundreds of fascinating 20 minute lectures by some of the world's great minds, available for free online (and on AVOD).  The people at TED have also launched a site for young people, called TED-Ed.  TED-Ed's video are shorter than TED videos, and many of are beautifully animated.  Here's one that explains just how small atoms are (they're really, really, really small).

The Open Culture website has links to all sorts of free educational material online.  Their webpage on great science videos has enough links to free videos to keep a science buff entertained for weeks.  Another great way to find science videos is to look at science channels on YouTube. National Geographic, Scientific American, and NASA all have channels with fascinating videos.  If you or your kids like science experiments, Sick Science is a great channel to check out.  Finally, Hulu has a page devoted to shows about science and technology.  You may also be interested in their documentaries page.

Now let's look at a few of the best websites that focus on the different branches of science:

Astronomy and Cosmology
An Atlas of the Universe: This amazing site lets you see where the Earth fits into the universe; allowing you to jump to larger and larger views:  from nearby stars, to galaxies, to the entire visible universe.
Eyes on the Solar System: This interactive website lets watch a "you are there" simulation of the Mars Curiosity landing, and virtually fly around all the planets in the solar system!
HubbleSite - Picture Album: Another stunning website, which lets you look through all the images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. 
The Scale of the Universe 2:  This interactive animation lets you zoom inward and outward to visualize just how small atoms are, and just how stupendously gigantic the universe is. 
The Particle Adventure: A nice overview of particle physics from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. A great website about general physics topics, with links to a wide range of other good sites.
Web Elements: An online guide to all the elements in the periodic table.
What's That Stuff?  If you've ever wondered what's in wasabi that makes it so hot, or what Silly String is made of, here's the place to find out.
Earth Sciences "News and information about geology"
Global Climate Change: A good website on the topic from NASA
Encyclopedia of Earth: An online encyclopedia covering all the earth sciences.
Encyclopedia of Life: "Global Access to Knowledge About Life on Earth"
Learn.Genetics:  An informative website about one of the fastest-changing areas of biology.  From the University of Utah.  A little more technical, but this site features amazing animations of the the molecular machinery inside of us all.
Brain and Behavior
The Secret Life of the Brain:  A great site from PBS, with an interactive 3-D model of the brain, and amazing optical illusions.
 Exploratorium: Mind:  A wonderful resource for exploring the mind and its quirks.
We'll cover technology websites in depth in a future blog post, but here are a couple of interesting ones.
 How Products Are Made: An online encyclopedia with hundreds of articles about how everyday products are manufactured.
 How Stuff Works:  A good website explaining how all kinds of things work.  There are a lot of ads, but many of the articles and videos are worth wading through them.
This is just a small sampling of the amazing variety of science websites out there.  If you look around and find some other great ones, tell us about them in the comments!  Have fun exploring!

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