The Pinball Machine of Science


In a dark corner of the Ontario Science Centre,
there is a pinball machine
that looks kinda boring
but this pinball machine has a secret.
Shall we find out what it is?
So, here we go.
Hmmm, okay, a little unexpected.
We can turn this centre disk, so let’s do
that and try firing the ball again.
Okay, that was different.
Let’s try one more time.
So it seems the secret of this pinball machine
is there’s some kind of shape under the disk.
I wonder if we could figure out exactly what
shape it is.
Maybe you already have a guess.
Let’s fire a bunch more pinballs.
This time we’ll add some data visualization
to help us out.
By tracing the path, we get a pretty good
idea of where it bounced, but part of the
path was hidden, so let’s make a note of our
uncertainty.
Each time we fire the ball, let’s turn the
disk just a small amount.
We can speed this up.
Okay!
It looks like our secret shape is a triangle.
Would you agree?
We’ve collected a lot of observations.
Yeah, I think we can be pretty confident it’s
a triangle.
So what’s the point here, is this some kind
of weird Sesame Street episode?
Triangle!
No.
The point is that this, right here, is HOW
SCIENCE IS DONE.
Not all, but a lot of science in this day
and age.
Let me explain by going back in time.
This is the island of all human knowledge.
It started out small.
In the early days of science, people explored
the world by using their senses to observe
things around them.
Sight, sound, touch, smell, and yes, even
taste.
This kind of sensory observation expanded
our knowledge greatly.
Telescopes and microscopes were later invented
to see the very distant and the very small,
but it’s worth noting that these tools still
focus light into eyeballs, essentially an
amplification of sight.
As our collective island of knowledge grew
larger, the coastline expanded, revealing
reefs and bays hinting at whole worlds of
information that were inaccessible with current
tools.
What are cells made of?
What’s out there in the deepest reaches of
space?
So.
Pause.
Back to the pinball machine.
We suspected there was something under the
disk.
But we can’t see, smell, hear, taste, or touch
it.
We can’t DIRECTLY observe it.
So, as scientists, we need a new tool that
will reveal new information.
Some way we can INDIRECTLY observe it.
Even when we can’t see something directly,
we can place tools between our senses and
what we’re studying and gather high quality
data.
But techniques for probing the invisible typically
aren’t obvious; so how do we find new ways
to make indirect observations?
Well, sometimes they’re stumbled upon, without
a clear understanding of how they work or
their significance.
Röntgen discovered x-rays and found they
allowed him to “see” hidden objects, indirectly.
Other methods of Indirect Observation are
designed with clever thinking and planning,
like coordinating radio telescopes to construct
an image of a black hole.
Always, methods are built on knowledge and
technology that has come before.
For example, x-rays aren’t just useful for
bones.
By recording the scattering patterns of x-rays
that passed through DNA, Rosalind Franklin
and Maurice Wilkins showed key features of
DNA, leading to a complete description of
the now iconic double-helix structure.
Clearly, some of the most important advances
in science have been through discovering or
inventing new ways to indirectly observe our
world.
By developing new technologies, growing knowledge,
and building on what came before, in the future
we will observe what today, hasn’t even been
imagined.
Thank you so much for watching… wait.
How do I know you watched this?
I’ll use indirect observation – ah yes, the
view count has incremented by one, therefore
I can be confident you watched this video.
So thank you.
And thank you for considering subscribing
to watch more animated videos.
Perhaps you could share this video with someone
who might be interested in the pinball machine
of science?
I’m Stuart and this is Biocinematics.

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