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Science and Matter
Science deals with that material which occupies all the space around us, —the air, the water, and the earth. This material is called matter. Matter is the building material of the world in which we live. Matter exists in this world in two distinct states. It may be living, or may have been alive at some previous time, in which case we speak of it as organic matter; or it may never have been alive. The latter state of matter is called inorganic. Hence we find two groups of sciences which deal with matter: the biological sciences, which treat of living matter; and the chemical and physical sciences, which deal chiefly with inorganic matter.
Biology is the science which treats of matter in a living state. The two subdivisions of biology, dealing with plant life and animal life respectively, are called botany and zoology.
Knowledge in Science gained by Observation
Science has been defined as “knowledge gained by exact observation and correct thinking.” First of all, science is a kind of knowledge. It is accurate knowledge. But it is possible to acquire a mass of knowledge not scientific with the sole aid of a text-book. Such knowledge, for example, might be that of the Latin or the German language. Scientific knowledge, according to our definition, must be gained through observation, from the accurate study of a speci men, something that we may see and touch. It is not enough to study a book alone; this may be an aid, but the specimen is, after all, the main thing. If we were to fit ourselves for the trade of a plumber or a carpenter or a mason, we certainly should not depend upon a book for our information regarding our particular trade. We should, instead, go to the shop and there learn to work with the tools of our trade. So, in the pursuit of scientific work, we must learn to use the tools with which nature has pro vided us, —our hands, our eyes, and the thinking mechanism, our brains. As Louis Agassiz, the famous naturalist said, “Study nature, not books.”
Classification of Facts Observed
The knowledge we gain by observation is worth very little to us or to any one else unless we use our brains to classify it and to apply it. We must find out what different facts mean as related to one another. Single isolated facts about the color, coats, or markings found on the coats of a kidney bean mean but little to us if we cannot correlate these observations with others and relate them to scien tific truths already learned. A great many men, working for long periods of time, have gathered together a large number of single isolated facts, have correlated these facts, and then have given to the world discoveries of world-wide importance. A careful boy or girl may, by his own painstaking work in science, find out some fact that is new, and in a small way make a discovery. It is one of the most interesting things about science work, that it has in it the spirit of discovery.
It is evident that, in order to understand the cause of the regular movements of a clock, it would be necessary to take the wheels apart and to find out the structure of the different pieces composing the works, so as to see how these parts are re lated to each other. In the study of biology it is usually found best to begin with the study of the form and structure of the parts of an organism; this study is called morphology.
After we have discovered in the clock the form and structure of the different wheels and cogs and the relation of one to the other, we are in a position to put them together again and to find out how they move and what causes the movement: to study the use or function of each part. The study of the uses or functions of the parts of an organism is called physiology.
In order to study physiology, and indeed most sciences, we frequently have to make use of an experiment. There are always three steps in a complete experiment. Beginners in scientific study should always try to follow these steps exactly. First comes actually making the experiment. This includes col lecting and putting together such materials as we may need, a statement of the work we perform, and most important of all, a definite statement of the problem that we are attempting to solve. The second step is to make observations on the experiment which we have set up. These observations may extend over a period of several days or even weeks. They must be noted in such form that we can use them in the third step of the experiment. This step, the hardest of all, consists in drawing conclusions from the observations we have previously made. Every experiment should be illustrated with drawings to show all the apparatus used at each stage of the process.
Use of a Notebook
Scientific work should be carefully and accurately performed, and the results should be recorded in some permanent form. For this purpose a notebook is used, in which the student makes a complete record, not only of experiments but also of all other work performed in the schoolroom, outdoors or at home. The notebook best adapted to this purpose is one in which the leaves may be added from time to time. For work done outdoors, field trips and the like, it is better to have a separate notebook. This may be used as a working book, in which observations are jotted down in a brief form and later copied in ink in the laboratory note book. It is of advantage to have all your notes under one cover.
Drawing constitutes a very important part of your labora tory work. In scientific drawing, every line made should mean something ; the lines should be firm and bold; sketchy work should not be allowed. A hard pencil should be used. If you are expert with the draw ing pen, then make your drawings in ink. Do not attempt to shade your drawing. Every part of the drawing to which you wish to call attention must be carefully labeled. Place a neat index of the parts so labeled directly underneath the drawing, near the bottom of the page. Only one. side of the paper should be used in any scientific work, whether written work or drawings.
For convenience, science work is usually performed in a room called a laboratory. This room may be fitted up with certain appliances to make the work easier. But in biology the great out of doors makes a much more useful laboratory than any schoolroom. However, observations made at home or out of doors should, when possible, be verified in the laboratory under the supervision of a teacher. Frequently the laboratory differs little if at all from an ordinary school room. It should always be well lighted and, if possible, should have north light as well as some direct sunlight. A corner room is best if it can be ob tained. If tables are used, they should be- arranged so that each student may get as much light as possible without shading his neighbor.
Every pupil ought to provide himself, in addition to the laboratory notebook and a hard pencil, with the following articles: a hand lens (a small brass-mounted tripod lens, one mounted in vulcanite, or the small lens known as a linen tester), two or three darning needles mounted in elder pith or in wooden handles, a good eraser, and a ruler marked with the metric system. A small pair of forceps, scissors, and a light, thin- bladed knife or scalpel are useful, but not essential for most laboratory work.
Laboratory Work Essential
It is not, however, the laboratory or the equipment that makes the laboratory work a success. It is rather the spirit of the pupils. Interest in the work is the first essential. When at work on what may seem to be only dry details, look ahead and think about what you are doing. Try to find a purpose in everything that you do. It is possible to make any piece of biological work interesting by keeping in mind that everything in nature is part of a great plan and has a purpose. It is your place to find out just how the given part that you may be studying is fitted or adapted to its work in the general plan.