6 BITS OF KNOWLEDGE
THAT CONSTITUTE MINIMUM SCIENTIFIC LITERACY
From Chet Raymo, Dept. of Physics and
Astronomy, Stonehill College, North Easton, MA 02357.
These were taken from the Am. J. Phys. (1998)
- The world is big. With our best telescopes
we observe a universe of tens of billions of galaxies. Each galaxy
consists of hundreds of billions of stars. Most of those stars
probably have planet systems. Our Earth is a typical planet of a
typical star in a typical corner of a typical galaxy.
- The world is old. Human time is not cosmic
time. If a year is represented by the thickness of a playing card,
all of recorded human history would be a pile of cards about 10
feet high. the age of the universe is about 15 billion years; lay
this pile of cards on its side and it would reach from New York to
- The world is made of atoms. Nature's
construction set is astonishingly simple - protons, neutrons,
electrons. OF these, nature makes 92 kinds of atoms, and these
combine into molecules. Out of simplicity comes complexity - the
clear liquidity of water, the smell of bananas, the blue of the
sky. A molecule called DNA determines your species, your gender,
the color of your eyes.
- The world evolves. This history of the
universe is grand unfolding of matter and form from a seed of pure
energy. Stars, planets, and life have histories, determined by law
and contingency - life and death, building up and tearing down,
beauty and terror. Everything alive on the planet Earth today is
related by common descent from primordial ancestors.
- Everything is connected. Our bodies are
made of stardust - atoms forged in earlier generations of stars as
they lived and died. Stars, planets, plants, animals, rocks, soil,
sea, and atmosphere are interrelated in a fabric of wondrous
refinement and resilience. We disrupt the fabric at our
- The world is wonderful. The more we learn
about the form and function of the world, the more we realize the
depth of our ignorance, and the more we appreciate the creation as
a source of wonder, awe, reverence, praise - or as revelation of a
power worthy of our wonder, awe, reverence, praise.