Scientific Methods

Friday, April 07, 2006


Courseware Blog

There is a courseware blog

On this you can comment directly by clicking on the comments link


To use the above Weblog you do NOT NEED ANY PASSWORDS!

Personal Blogs (Pretoria Learners ONLY)

I asked that you use the service.

Once you have set up your Weblog you must start to post on your Weblog for this you will need a user ID and Password which you will need to remember. Please look at this URL for instructions of how you will be assessed.

What to put on your Personal Weblogs?

For Pretoria Learners I would expect the following

  1. A report on the visit to the Cradle of Humankind
  2. A report on the SAEON SUMMIT and the SAEON Student Network meeting (you can put Bob's Lecture summary here)
  3. Those who went to the Fourth Annual GBIF Science Symposium - a report from that meeting
  4. Your Daily Reports and other Reports that are required by CSIR

For Cape Town students/learners I would expect the following

  1. Fieldwork in the Cape Flats Nature Reserve
  2. Your Honours Project descriptions
  3. Impressions on other courses that you are doing
  4. Daily activities*
*I will be requesting that the Department consider daily report of how you spent each day - this is common workplace practice and indeed I have to keep records for CSIR

For Everyone

  1. Abstract of your Scientific Methods Project
  2. Useful links to articles that you might use - a portable "Favourites" for surfing the Internet
  3. Review of either What the Bleep do we know? or Elegant Universe
  4. Events that have happened each day
Postings need not be long but provide information, this expression session of yourself so whit, humour and the un-orthodox are entirely acceptable!

Forgotten Passwords (Pretoria Learners only)

there is a help link and from there a link that goes to forgotten passwords the direct link is this will reset the password. I would suggest that you use the following convention for your user name firstnamesurname_uwc so for me this is richardknight_uwc. This will ensure a unique user name.



Dr Richard Knight
Co-ordinator: National Information Society Learnerships - Ecological Informatics
Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology
University of the Western Cape
Private Bag X17
Bellville 7535

Phone 27 + 21 + 959 3940
Fax 27 + 21 + 959 1237




Each person (UWC and Pretoria) will prepare a Film Review and the post this review to your own personal Weblog and then advertise this review by adding a comment to this posting (please ensure you identify yourself). This will need to be completed by next Thursday. Please DO NOT DISCUSS this with you classmates since each person will need to interpret the material in their own way. I REPEAT do not DISCUSS this with your CLASSMATES and DO NOT USE the Internet to search for articles and reviews (I have virtually all reviews of these films on file - so it will be obvious whether you used these resources). There is no right and wrong interpretation - the review must remain your own impressions. The film(s) might be great or terrible, scientifically correct or a load of rubbish, it may represent dogma or truth or some state in between, it might not even be a film and just a stream of electrons or plain un-real and you did not see it at all in this world, in which case invent your review!

You have a choice of

What the Bleep Do We Know? (DVD was shown at UWC and is available from your local Video hire shop or for purchase from at R135)


Elegant Universe (Viewable from The first two full episodes are on the supplied DVD but we have not been able to source the third episode for download


It was released in 2004 for mass consumption

Extract from Rotten Tomatoes

WHAT THE #$*! DO WE KNOW?! is a new type of film. It is part documentary, part story, and part elaborate and inspiring visual effects and animations. The protagonist, Amanda, played by Marlee Matlin, finds herself in a fantastic Alice in Wonderland experience when her daily, uninspired life literally begins to unravel, revealing the uncertain world of the quantum field hidden behind what we consider to be our normal, waking reality.

She is literally plunged into a swirl of chaotic occurrences, while the characters she encounters on this odyssey reveal the deeper, hidden knowledge she doesnt even realize she has asked for. Like every hero, Amanda is thrown into crisis, questioning the fundamental premises of her life that the reality she has believed in about how men are, how relationships with others should be, and how her emotions are affecting her work isnt reality at all!

As Amanda learns to relax into the experience, she conquers her fears, gains wisdom, and wins the keys to the great secrets of the ages, all in the most entertaining way. She is then no longer the victim of circumstances, but she is on the way to being the creative force in her life. Her life will never be the same.

The fourteen top scientists and mystics interviewed in documentary style serve as a modern day Greek Chorus. In an artful filmic dance, their ideas are woven together as a tapestry of truth. The thoughts and words of one member of the chorus blend into those of the next, adding further emphasis to the films underlying concept of the interconnectedness of all things.

The chorus members act as hosts who live outside of the story, and from this Olympian view, comment on the actions of the characters below. They are also there to introduce the Great Questions framed by both science and religion, which divides the film into a series of acts. Through the course of the film, the distinction between science and religion becomes increasingly blurred, since we realize that, in essence, both science and religion describe the same phenomena.

The film employs animation to realize the radical knowledge that modern science has unearthed in recent years. Powerful cinematic sequences explore the inner-workings of the human brain. Quirky animation introduces us to the smallest form of consciousness in the body the cell. Dazzling visuals reinforce the films message in an exciting, powerful way. Done with humor, precision, and irreverence, these scenes are only part of what makes this film unique in the history of cinema, and a true box-office winner. -- © Lord of the Wind Films

THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE (The theory of Everything)

One of the most ambitious and exciting theories ever proposed—one that may be the long-sought "theory of everything," which eluded even Einstein—gets a masterful, lavishly computer-animated explanation from bestselling author-physicist Brian Greene, when NOVA presents the nuts, bolts, and sometimes outright nuttiness of string theory.

Also known as superstring theory, the startling idea proposes that the fundamental ingredients of nature are inconceivably tiny strings of energy, whose different modes of vibration underlie everything that happens in the universe. The theory successfully unites the laws of the large—general relativity—and the laws of the small—quantum mechanics—breaking a conceptual logjam that has frustrated the world's smartest scientists for nearly a century.

Greene is professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, where he is one of the world's foremost string theorists. He is also an unusually adept science explainer, whose book The Elegant Universe became a runaway bestseller and whose popular lectures pulse with string-like energy, not to mention infectious humor.

"If anyone can make string theory accessible, Greene can," marvels New York Magazine. Small wonder, since the Harvard- and Oxford-graduated physicist has studied acting and has performed in college musicals and community theater. Working with the Emerson String Quartet, he has also created a live presentation merging physics and music, which has drawn sell-out crowds and is now being developed for Lincoln Center's 2005 season.

On NOVA, Greene brings these wide-ranging talents to bear on a theory that is notoriously difficult to grasp, yet one that is incredibly exciting to both scientists and laypeople alike. If string theory proves correct, the universe we see obscures a reality that is far more rich and subtle than anyone ever imagined—a universe with numerous hidden dimensions, a universe in which the fabric of space can tear, a universe that may be but one of many parallel universes ceaselessly popping in and out of existence throughout eternity. And these are just some of the astounding implications of strings.

Program One, "The Elegant Universe: Einstein's Dream," introduces string theory and shows how modern physics—being composed of two theories that are ferociously incompatible—reached its schizophrenic impasse: one theory, known as general relativity, is fantastically successful in describing big things like stars and galaxies, and another, called quantum mechanics, is equally successful in describing small things like atoms and subatomic particles.

Albert Einstein, the inventor of general relativity, dreamed of finding a single theory that would embrace all of nature's laws. But in this quest for the so-called unified theory, Einstein came up empty-handed, and the conflict between general relativity and quantum mechanics has stymied all who've followed. That is, until the discovery of string theory.

Program Two, "The Elegant Universe: String's the Thing," opens with a whimsical scene in a movie theater in which the history of the universe is run backwards to the big bang, the moment at which general relativity and quantum mechanics both come into play, and therefore the point at which our conventional model of reality breaks down.

Then it's string theory to the rescue as Greene describes the serendipitous steps that led from a forgotten 200-year-old mathematical formula to the first glimmerings of strings—quivering strands of energy whose different vibrations give rise to quarks, electrons, photons, and all other elementary particles. Strings are truly tiny, being smaller than an atom by the same factor that a tree is smaller than the solar system. But, as Greene explains, they are able—for the first time ever—to combine the laws of the large and the laws of the small into a proposal for a single, harmonious theory of everything.

One of the most peculiar aspects of strings is that they require more than the three familiar dimensions of space plus one of time. In fact, string theory calls for at least ten dimensions in order that its rather abstruse mathematics remain consistent. Greene demonstrates how these extra dimensions can be folded up in plain sight without our noticing. It's like an electrical power cable seen from afar, he explains. To us, the cable looks like a one-dimensional line. But to an ant crawling on the cable, it has an extra, circular dimension—its circumference—which we can't see from a distance.

On a much smaller scale, strings may vibrate in and around extra dimensions that are so tiny that we are completely unaware of them, even though, the theory claims, they play a vital part in determining why the world around us has the properties it does.

But even with its many theoretical successes, as of the 1990s physicists realized that strings suffered from a pernicious flaw—an embarrassment of riches: there were five different versions of the theory, each totally out-of-sync with the others. We have one universe, so shouldn't there be one theory of everything?

Program Three, "The Elegant Universe: Welcome to the 11th Dimension," shows how in 1995 Edward Witten of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, aided by others, revolutionized string theory by successfully uniting the five different versions into a single theory that is cryptically named "M-theory," a development which required a total of eleven dimensions.

Ten...eleven...who's counting? But the new eleventh dimension is different from all the others, since it implies that strings can come in higher dimensional shapes called membranes, or "branes" for short. These have truly science-fiction-like qualities, since in principle they can be as large as the universe. A brane can even be a universe—a parallel universe—and we may be living on one right now.

Branes might also explain why gravity is the weakest force, requiring all the matter in the Earth to produce a measly one g. According to this idea, gravity may be far more potent, but most of its strength is leaking into a parallel universe.

Witten has described string theory as "a part of 21st-century physics that fell by chance into the 20th century." In fact, the theory is so far ahead of experimental technique that there is as yet no way to verify whether strings are real or a figment of some very creative imaginations.

But scientists at the CERN atom-smasher on the French-Swiss border are working to test of one of the predictions of string theory. Scheduled to run later in this decade, this experiment may take an important step in showing that string theory is not just a crazy idea, but crazy reality.


Anything? the choice is yours entirely, the views are entirely yours, your assessment is entirely yours and you will be ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.

The only rules are ....

  1. Identify yourself
  2. Minimum 500 words
  3. Be Creative in how you express yourselves
  4. Provide a final star assessment
  5. Last Chance to submit next Thursday 9am (otherwise you best get into a time warp drive to get it in on time)

* Really Really terribly - avoid at all costs and send a copy of the DVD to your mother in law as birthday present!

** Bad - watch if you are a desperate movie/documentary watcher, otherwise miss it as it was a rotten choice!

*** OK - not great but watchable between ordering pizzas and answering your accumulated sms list

**** Good -entertaining and recommended

*****Brilliant - should not be missed (sell your mother-law into slavery to get your hands on the DVD!)


Since you will be ABSOLUTELY right, Facts will not be marked! Content will not be marked! It will be marked on entertainment value and expression and presentation (grammar, punctuation, spelling communications - the rules of English construction). We will start off with giving you FULL Marks and take off marks if it is not entertaining, well written with attention to your English Expression. And if you use sms talk like u for you and b4 for before it will never arrived for assessment - it was sent into another dimension zone!



ps - if you missed What the Bleep Do We Know? then review the other option or rent the video/DVD!

Dr Richard Knight
Co-ordinator: National Information Society Learnerships - Ecological Informatics
Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology
University of the Western Cape
Private Bag X17
Bellville 7535

Phone 27 + 21 + 959 3940
Fax 27 + 21 + 959 1237