Science or the philosophy of nature

What is Science?

The English Oxford dictionary defines science as The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.  The word “science” is a fairly modern term and is attributed to the philosopher, theologian and wordsmith William Whewell who was a master of Trinity College born in 1794. Before the early 19th century the study of the physical and natural world was known as natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature.

Portrait of stipple engraving of William Wellcome
   Engraving of William Whewell [CC-BY-4.0], Welcome Collection

From this definition it is obvious that science covers the vast area of human understanding and the physical world. I have no intention of trying to include every aspect of science on this website. My own experience of science, apart from Bunsen burners and glass beakers in a chemistry class at school, was during my degree course at the UHI Millennium Institute, which later became the University of the Highlands and Islands. Since my degree was in Applied Environmental Science, most of the science pages on this website will be involved with this aspect of science.  This is partly for my convenience as it allows me to link the environmental science pages to the environmental engineering pages on this website.

To most people outside the academic world a scientist is visualised as someone in a white coat, standing in front of a workbench with chemistry laboratory equipment, including retort stands, glass tubes and beakers. Fortunately, with the Open University television programmes and the rise of citizen science, the image of scientists is changing.

During my degree scientific study consisted of wading through books or online documents in the library, crawling around fields trying to identify plant species from field guides or writing up reports on a computer. Even when I got into the science lab, and wear a white coat, it was usually to measure soil particles by passing the soil through a series of sieves after drying the soil in an oven. After completing my degree my scientific work consisted of wading through water filled ditches to measure the channel size for flood risk assessments or standing around for hours in a field waiting for test holes in the ground to empty to determine the ground infiltration of a field.

I hope you find the science on this website interesting.










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Web page last updated  17 January 2019

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