Science360 (for iPad), a free app created by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is a good tool for creating interest in the wonders of science. Its massive grid of thumbnails provides access to informative and often visually stunning images and videos related to NSF projects, sure to intrigue and delight even the most science-phobic among us. You can tweet links to NSF Web pages about the stories you discover or post them on Facebook. One thing you can’t do is to research a topic, as there’s no index.
The thumbnail grid is arranged in an 18-by-12 square matrix, a total of 216 squares, each containing a thumbnail, that can be scrolled through carousel style—vertically as well as horizontally. There’s no beginning or end to the grid; after scrolling for 18 squares horizontally (or 12 vertically), the squares repeat, as if the grid surrounds the user. You can shrink the grid, revealing a larger number of thumbnails, but pinching the screen. Stretching the screen reveals captions, and identifies videos and images you’ve favorited.
Great Content, Disorganized
The squares don’t seem to follow any particular organizational pattern, yet each individual square links to something fascinating. To demonstrate, I randomly selected a thumbnail; touching it called up a video that tells the story of Buckminsterfullerene, the soccer ball-shaped molecule, better known as a buckyball, composed of 60 carbon atoms. To either side of it are an image titled “Branching Morphogenesis—a 3D sculpture, made from 75,000 cable zip ties, based on a computer simulation of the behavior of lung cells—and a video about the relationship between a woman’s body clock and her chance of getting breast cancer. (Women who work night shifts show higher rates of breast cancer.) Below the buckyball video is a slow-motion video showing the midair behavior of dragonflies.
Above the buckyball thumbnail is a generic “Science360” thumbnail. Touching it reveals a caption but no content: the rest of the screen is black. A look at the grid reveals about 16 such content-less squares. Nothing seem to load into them, despite an active Internet connection. That brings me to another issue: your iPad needs to be connected to access any of the video content, though photos already loaded remain accessible.
When you open an image or video, a bar containing 5 icons appears at the bottom of the screen. Tapping the screen once hides the bar, and tapping it again brings it back. The second icon, a star, lets you favorite or unfavorite content. The third integrates with social media, letting you post an item to Facebook, tweet an item, or email it. What you’re sending is actually a link to a NSF news page containing the image or video and a description of it.
For images, the fourth icon is labeled HD, and lets you download a hi-res version to your iPad’s camera roll. With videos, the fourth icon instead lets you access related videos. They’re related by NSF video series, not necessarily by subject. While the buckyball video takes you to other chemistry-related videos in the NSF’s Chemistry Now series, the dragonfly video is part of the Science Nation series, which also includes a video on engineering and music.
Although the general nature of many of the items is identifiable from the thumbnail; much of the grid is like Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get. In that is the great strength and weakness of Science360. It’s not much use for research—there’s no search function, for one thing. What it does is present a smorgasbord of visually compelling informative videos and images from a wide range of scientific disciplines, ready for your exploration. It’s a feast for the curious.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc