Science is an ongoing endeavor. It did not end with the most recent edition of your college physics textbook and will not end even once we know the answers to big questions, such as how our 20,000 genes interact to build a human being or what dark matter is. So long as there are unexplored and unexplained parts of the natural world, science will continue to investigate them.
Most typically in science, answering one question inspires deeper and more detailed questions for further research. Similarly, coming up with a fruitful idea to explain a previously anomalous observation frequently leads to new expectations and areas of research. So, in a sense, the more we know, the more we know what we don’t yet know. As our knowledge expands, so too does our awareness of what we don’t yet understand. For example, James Watson and Francis Crick’s proposal (based on evidence collected by Rosalind Franklin)that DNA takes the form of a double helix helped answer a burning question in biology about the chemical structure of DNA. And while it helped answer one question, it also generated new expectations (e.g., that DNA is copied via base pairing), raised many new questions (e.g., how does DNA store information?), and contributed to whole new fields of research (e.g., genetic engineering). Like this work on the structure of DNA, most scientific research generates new expectations, inspires new questions, and leads to new discoveries.
A SCIENCE PROTOTYPE: RUTHERFORD AND THE ATOM
Niels Bohr built upon Ernest Rutherford’s work to develop the model of the atom most commonly portrayed in textbooks: a nucleus orbited by electrons at different levels. Despite the new questions it raised (e.g., why do orbiting, negatively-charged electrons not spiral into the positively-charged nucleus?), this model was powerful and, with further modification, led to a wide range of accurate predictions and new discoveries, including predicting the outcome of chemical reactions, determining the composition of distant stars, and conceiving of the atomic bomb.
Rutherford’s story continues as we examine each item on the Science Checklist. To find out how this investigation measures up to the last item of the checklist, read on.
Learn more about how investigations of the structure of DNA inspired new questions and further research in The structure of DNA: Cooperation and competition.