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Looking at the sky, you might wonder how life arose and evolved, and how the smallest pieces of matter come together to make up all that we see in the vast universe. In other words, where did everything come from and what is it made of?

Around the world, thousands of people dedicate their lives and minds to research that can help answer questions like these. Their enterprise often involves special locations, intense collaboration, and the construction of magnificent instruments to help observe the world.

In this collection of Web sites, you can explore the scientific life through interviews, live broadcasts, and photos that capture the often-unseen moments of investigation. We look over the scientists’ shoulders, seeing what their eyes see and hearing their thoughts on the fascinating—and sometimes elusive—laws of nature.Our Web sites are rooted in the places where fundamental research happens. We visited "observatories"–hubs of scientific research–located in a range of climates, from the frozen valleys of Antarctica to the teeming jungles of Belize. Some sites, like the particle accelerator at CERN and the Hubble Space Telescope, are centered around massive construction projects devoted to detecting what hasn’t been seen before. Others, like Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island and the Natural History Museum in London, have great stature as libraries and gathering places with long histories of discovery. While the scenes and the study may be different in these observatories, they each reflect important aspects of the human enterprise we call science.

There are two ways to explore this set of Web sites: You can visit each site, or follow the threads we created to tie them together: people, place, tools, and ideas. Whichever path you choose will reveal a larger picture of scientific research today, and the intellect and energy behind the great discoveries that fuel our understanding of the universe.