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The Science Portal

Science is the methodical study of nature including testable explanations and predictions. From classical antiquity through the 19th century, science as a type of knowledge was more closely linked to philosophy than it is now and, in fact, in the Western world, the term "natural philosophy" encompassed fields of study that are today associated with science, such as astronomy, medicine, and physics. However, during the Islamic Golden Age foundations for the scientific method were laid by Ibn al-Haytham in his Book of Optics. While the classification of the material world by the ancient Indians and Greeks into air, earth, fire and water was more philosophical, medieval Middle Easterns used practical, experimental observation to classify materials.

Today, the ever-evolving term "science" refers to the pursuit of knowledge, not the knowledge itself. It is often synonymous with "natural and physical science" and often restricted to those branches of study relating to the phenomena of the material universe and their laws. Although the term implies exclusion of pure mathematics, many university faculties include Mathematics Departments within their Faculty of Science. The dominant sense in ordinary use has a narrower use for the term "science." It developed as a part of science becoming a distinct enterprise of defining the "laws of nature"; early examples include Kepler's laws, Galileo's laws, and Newton's laws of motion. In this period it became more common to refer to natural philosophy as "natural science." Over the course of the 19th century, the word "science" became increasingly associated with the disciplined study of the natural world, including physics, chemistry, geology and biology. This sometimes left the study of human thought and society in a linguistic limbo, which was resolved by classifying these areas of academic study as social science. For example, psychology evolved from philosophy, and has grown into an area of study.

Currently, there are both "hard" (e.g. biological psychology) and "soft" science (e.g. social psychology) fields within the discipline. As a result, and as is consistent with the unfolding of the study of knowledge and development of methods to establish facts, each area of psychology employs a scientific method. Reflecting the evolution of the development of knowledge and established facts and the use of the scientific method, Psychology Departments in universities are found within: Faculty of Arts and Science, Faculty of Arts, and a Faculty of Science. Similarly, several other major areas of disciplined study and knowledge exist today under the general rubric of "science", such as formal science and applied science.

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Charles Darwin, whose theory of natural selection underpins Evolution
Evolution is a change in the genetic makeup of a population within a species. Since the emergence of modern genetics in the 1940s, evolution has been defined more specifically as a change in the frequency of alleles from one generation to the next. The word "evolution" is often used as a shorthand for the modern theory of evolution of species based upon Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, which states that all modern species are the products of an extensive process that began over three billion years ago with simple single-celled organisms, and Gregor Mendel's theory of genetics. As the theory of evolution by natural selection and genetics has become universally accepted in the scientific community, it has replaced other explanations including creationism and Lamarckism. Skeptics, often creationists, sometimes deride evolution as "just a theory" in an attempt to characterize it as an arbitrary choice and degrade its claims to truth. Such criticism overlooks the scientifically-accepted use of the word "theory" to mean a falsifiable and well-supported hypothesis.

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A Persian astrolabe, used for determining the time at both day and night.
Credit: Andrew Dunn

An 18th Century Persian astrolabe used for determining the time at both day and night. The points of the curved spikes on the front rete plate mark the positions of the brightest stars, the name of each star being labeled at the base of each spike. The back plate, or mater, is engraved with projected coordinate lines. From the Whipple Museum of the History of Science collection.

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Leonhard Euler
Leonhard Euler (April 15, 1707 Basel, Switzerland – September 18, 1783 St Petersburg, Russia) was a Swiss mathematician and physicist. He is considered to be the dominant mathematician of the 18th century and one of the greatest mathematicians of all time; he is certainly among the most prolific, with collected works filling over 70 volumes. Euler developed many important concepts and proved numerous lasting theorems in diverse areas of mathematics, including calculus and number theory and topology. In the course of this work, he introduced much of modern mathematical terminology, defining the concept of a function, and its notation, such as sin, cos, and tan for the trigonometric functions.

Did you know...

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  • ...that acoustic levitation is a method for suspending matter in a fluid by using acoustic radiation pressure from intense sound waves in the medium?
  • ...that a successful experimental system must be stable and reproducible enough for scientists to make sense of the system's behavior, but unpredictable enough that it can produce useful results?

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