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
from Mt. Erebus in Antarctica, "tools
that scientists use to extend their senses into ranges far
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.
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.
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,
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.