Guest Post, Part 2: The Arch, the Stone and the Structure of Science

Virtualization of Knowledge
Virtualization of knowledge 0005 by agsandrew. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Science is not about discovering a low-level “theory of everything” that captures everything that can be said about what happens in the physical world. The structure of the natural world is not like that. To illustrate this, I began with a simple parable, which has an obvious application to the structure of scientific explanation. Continue reading

Have You Ever Seen a Three? Mathematics joins the science-religion dialogue.

For a scientist and the mathematician, the question of ‘what is real’ is very strongly linked to proof. In his Faraday seminar last month, “Is There a Place at the Science-Religion Table for Mathematics,” the mathematician and philosopher P. Douglas Kindschi, pointed out that proofs are the building blocks of mathematics so, historically, maths has had the strongest claim on what is real. Continue reading

Reading God’s book, with a computer…

Closeup of Babbage Difference Engine #2
Closeup of Babbage Difference Engine #2. By Larry Johnson. Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Did Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace, write the first computer programme? She was twenty-eight at the time, and it was a hundred years before the first working computer was to built. Although the work is not always recognised as her own, and the title of ‘first computer programmer’ is contested, Ada’s collaboration with Charles Babbage inspired Alan Turing as he developed some of the first computers in the 1940’s and 50’s.
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Life in the Lab: Jennifer Siggers

Following on from this week’s interview with Jennifer Siggers, here are some videos that I filmed when I visited her last summer. In the four clips below, Jennifer explains her work, her faith, how the two fit together, and her views on imagination in both science and Christianity.

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Route to Reality

229I have blogged a number of times on imagination, but what do working scientists think about this subject? Dr Jennifer Siggers is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, where she works on medical applications of fluid dynamics. Having met her at a Christians in Science conference a couple of years before, I wanted to find out how imagination is relevant to her own life in the lab.

Imagination is highly valued in Western culture but not always recognised as an essential part of science. So Jennifer initially protested that she wasn’t sure she had anything to say about imagination, but eventually was able to speak with me at some length about how important it is in her work. Mental pictures, analogies and thought experiments are all important for a scientist. For a Christian, learning to use imagination can also enhance Continue reading

Braids, biogas and banana skins

J.K. Østergaard, freeimages.com
© J.K. Østergaard, freeimages.com

Some scientists are driven by answering questions about how the world works, and others are more interested in applying that knowledge to new problems. Before I interviewed Mike Clifford, I knew him as an engineer who works on appropriate technology at the University of Nottingham. What I found was that he is actually committed to both very technical mathematically-based research, and developing simple solutions to pressing problems. Our meeting was at a Christians in Science conference, and Mike is another example of someone whose faith and work are not so much complementary as indistinguishable.

I chose to study engineering at university because I wanted to do something practical. I was told that I would enjoy a combination of physics and maths, but I found myself enjoying beautiful equations more than anything else, so I rebelled and went on to do a PhD in maths. After several years doing computational modelling and braid and knot theory, I got a job modelling traffic pollution in an architecture department. That was followed by a project on chaotic mixing, and another on composite materials.

I could have easily stayed on the pure side of maths, but I rediscovered my desire Continue reading

A Different Kind of Teaching

shho, www.sxc.hu
© shho, http://www.sxc.hu

Last week I met Francis Edward Su, a Mathematician who is on sabbatical in Cambridge. I have written recently about the challenges of teaching science (in Questioning, and Ignorance). Su has a PhD from Harvard, is the Benediktsson-Karwa Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, and is the President-Elect of the Mathematical Association of America, so he could be tempted to take himself too seriously to teach well. Teaching takes time, and students ask too many questions, but Su has given himself to his students in a way that recently won him an award.

According to Francis, giving an acceptance speech for a teaching award is a bit intimidating – people expect you to do something extraordinary (or at least keep them awake). Rather than reel off a list of teaching tips he decided to focus on just one, explaining what motivates him to teach well. His talk had such an impact on his colleagues that it’s Continue reading