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Cold Spring:

Watch an infant with a strange object, and you’ll see the child use all of his or her senses to understand it. According to the Exploratorium’s Noel Wanner and Paul Doherty, scientists aren’t so different in their curiosity. "It’s the tools that are different," they write in a correspondence from Mt. Erebus in Antarctica, "tools that scientists use to extend their senses into ranges far beyond human."

Scientific research relies on powerful extensions of our eyes and ears, and scientists employ these tools in many ways. The
Hubble Space Telescope can see so far into the universe that it can almost glimpse the beginning of time. The scanning electron microscope at the Natural History Museum in London can make the tiniest details of an organism clearly visible. The radio telescopes at Aricebo are ears pointed to the sky, collecting sounds from distance space.

The tools used for scientific research can be both predictably complex and surprisingly simple. The
particle accelerator at CERN, for example, is a complicated set of magnets that covers tens of miles, crosses an international border, and can smash atoms under conditions that mimic early moments of the universe. AMANDA is an elegant array of optical modules strung like pearls on cables and suspended in the ice two miles under the South Pole, watching for neutrinos. On the opposite end of the spectrum, entomologists at the Las Cuevas Research Station in the rain forest of Belize use plastic bags, small scissors, pruners, and hole punches to gather specimens. When it comes to studying life, often the tools are living things themselves, model organisms with genes that produce the right characteristics to answer a researcher’s questions.

Tools sometimes have an evolution of their own. They can reveal new things to us about the world, prompting us to ask new questions whose answers require new tools or enhancements of older ones. For example,
the discovery of antimatter at CERN has led engineers to develop new kinds of particle detectors. In 2002, astronauts installed a new camera on the Hubble Space Telescope, increasing its vision tenfold. And the tools that led to Watson and Crick’s deciphering of DNA’s structure sparked the development of instruments to decode it.