ASTR 1210 (O'Connell) Study Guide


Castle-Romeo Bomb Test

US hydrogen bomb test, 11 megatons, 1954.

The image above is probably what leaps to mind when the subject of "science and society" is raised. Nuclear weapons are the most dramatic embodiment of the power of science, and they evoke strongly negative emotions. Science, however, pervades almost all aspects of our society, and its net effects are highly beneficial. We are living today on the intellectual capital produced by thousands of scientists and engineers.

In this special lecture, not covered in the textbook, we discuss the effects of science and technology on society and how our understanding of the basic structure and operating principles of the universe has affected human lives.

A. Distinctions

B. The "Big Three" Benefits of Science/Technology to Society



ELECTRICITY (discussed below)

C. Conversion of Basic Science to Technology

D. Electricity: A Case Study

Electricity is the primary tool of modern civilization, yet few people appreciate this or have any idea of how electricity was discovered or converted to useful technologies.

Electricity is the everyday manifestation of electromagnetic force, the second kind of inter-particle force (after gravity) that scientists were able to quantify. Here is a very brief history of our understanding of EM force, divided between basic and applied developments:

Faraday's laboratory, the birthplace of the iPhone

E. Technological Excesses

The Dilemma


The Fundamental Irony

The worst environmental effects are caused by what almost everyone agrees is a good thing: technology keeps people alive.

F. Science and Technology Policy

Can an enlightened government channel developments in science and technology in beneficial directions?

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Last modified March 2015 by rwo

Text copyright © 1998-2015 Robert W. O'Connell. All rights reserved. These notes are intended for the private, noncommercial use of students enrolled in Astronomy 1210 at the University of Virginia.