ENCYCLOPEDIAS: Growing a Book of Science

Science  13 Oct 2000:
Vol. 290, Issue 5490, pp. 227
DOI: 10.1126/science.290.5490.227c

To look up, say, “brown dwarf,” “pendulum,” or “Navier-Stokes equations,” you could consult any number of free Web dictionaries. But these corporate sites often lack the breadth, detail, and occasional quirkiness of those built by lone fact aficionados. Those seeking such an experience may want to check out Eric Weisstein's Treasure Troves of Science. This storehouse of definitions for math, astronomy, physics, and other topics has grown considerably since it was mentioned in NetWatch in 1998. And Weisstein, an astronomer who began compiling facts about a decade ago, last year found a permanent host for the free site at math software company Wolfram Research, where he's now resident encyclopedist.

Entries vary in length, from a few words for chemistry terms to several pages for the Navier-Stokes equations, a set of fundamental fluid mechanics formulas. Others are more lay oriented: For “season,” Weisstein laments erroneous explanations and includes a movie showing how Earth's tilt changes over the course of the year. The site's centerpiece (part of which has been published as a book) is MathWorld, which offers definitions, diagrams, and references for nearly 10,000 terms—from the A-Cordial graph to the Zsigmondy theorem. Especially popular among students are the brief biographies of more than 1000 scientists. Frustrated by a missing entry? Take up Weisstein's invitation to contribute.

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