o The Frog Blog: The Appliances of Science

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Appliances of Science

This article also appears in today's edition of The Irish Times and was written by Frog Blogger, Humphrey Jones

The development of Apple’s iPhone has revolutionised our perception of the mobile phone. But how can it help us learn more about science?

Since its release, the iPhone’s potential as a multi-purpose device has been realised with the development of applications or apps, software programmes designed specifically for your mobile phone. Last year, there were 2.5 billion app downloads worldwide and this is expected to rise to 4.5 billion this year, 82% of which will be free.

The development of apps for the iPhone led other mobile phone manufacturers to alter the way they structured their operating systems and recently developers have expanded their apps to serve Nokia, Blackberry and Android Smartphones. And now, with the imminent release of Apple’s latest offering the iPad, apps are about to get bigger and better.

Currently, these apps range in their use, from business utilities to personal organisation tools to games or to satellite navigation systems. But science enthusiasts need not worry, because software developers have produced some brilliant applications aimed firmly at serving your inner “geek”.

Science is all around us and now it’s also at your fingertips. Powerful yet simple applications, available to download on your iPhone or Smartphone, let you; keep up to date with science news; explore the solar system (check out Worlds Apart for the iPhone or Celeste for Android phones); learn about how your body works; teach yourself to use laws of physics to solve puzzles (Touch Physics for the iPhone is one of my favourites) or find out more about sub-atomic particles (Particle Zoo also on the iPhone makes complex physics easy). Many of these apps are free or cost a nominal fee. Currently, most of the better science related apps have been designed for the iPhone and iPad, but Android, Nokia’s Ovi store and other platforms will catch up soon. The iTunes store currently has approximately 10,000 apps applicable to science and medicine.

The potential for science teaching and learning is also significant. Many primary and secondary schools in Ireland are currently using these devices in their classrooms and to good effect. With the arrival of the iPad over the coming months, this potential could be further cultivated. Danuta Gray, Chief Executive of O2 Ireland, believes the iPhone, its apps and the impending iPad, have considerable potential in science education.

“iPhones, iPads and the apps developed for them show how intuitive and natural accessing and using the Internet can be. It's how our children absorb information, so using them in education is the natural next step”

“Anything that helps to engage children and develop their interest in science and technology is fantastic and is to be applauded.”

The complexity of these applications varies according to their target audience. Some are clearly aimed at kids with many others aimed at the “casual scientist”. But there are also apps designed as complex reference tools, developed for science professionals or students of medicine, biochemistry or astrophysics.

One Galway based software company, eMedia, have developed an excellent app for the iPhone and iPod Touch called Pocket Heart, which uses 3D animation to show the inner workings of the human heart and our circulatory system. Mark Campbell, founder of eMedia, explains how Pocket Heart is suitable for a range of individuals.

“Pocket Heart is primarily aimed at leaving certificate biology students, as an educational tool, enabling them to visualise the complex inner workings of the human heart. Also, while working closely with Croí, the West of Ireland Cardiac Foundation, we have found that Pocket Heart functions as a novel communication tool for healthcare professionals to show patients”

“Medical science is rapidly advancing, with new mobile technologies making learning and communication easier for students, healthcare professionals, and the general public”.

Mark and his team have plans to roll out more apps over the summer, all focused on various aspects of human anatomy, which will be available on all mobile platforms – iPhone, iPad and Android.

Whether you are a fan of mobile technologies or not, apps like Pocket Heart are making science more accessible to individuals of all ages and that must surely be seen as positive.

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