Welcome!

Welcome to Asking How and Why, a site that digs deeper into the way the world works — from the devices we use every day to the galaxies at the edge of the known universe. In the posts to come, we’ll go beyond just observing what happens and dig into how and why it happens. These two questions — how and why — are a basis for understanding the world around us, and, in my opinion, two of the most beautiful questions in science.

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Westerlund 2, a stellar nursery 20,000 light-years away from Earth. How did these stars form? Why do the dust clouds form those beautiful shapes? How are we able to see things so far away? (Credit: NASA)

In the beginning there will probably be a bit of a calibration period, but in general you can expect four broad types of posts:

  • Descriptions of how different technology works
  • Investigations into why different phenomena appear in nature
  • Stories of experiments and theories that look into how we know what we know
  • Discussions on why these things are important

Some posts will be short explainers; others will be longer essays, or a series of posts around a particular theme. I’ll also include interviews with scientists, engineers, and researchers in the field, as well as reviews of tech-related books, movies, or tv shows. We may even have guest writers visit every once in a while. I will try to post at least once a month, and hopefully more often than that.

Topics will also be wide-ranging — there are great questions to be answered everywhere. The first entry describes a dance at the edge of the solar system; the next one will be much closer to home. Sometimes we’ll talk about the extraordinary, and sometimes we’ll find the extraordinary hidden within the ordinary. While the main focus will be is science and engineering, we’ll also discuss ethics and philosophy, history and politics, and the implications of the knowledge we’ve gained. After all, none of these truly exist in isolation.

For me, these posts serve two purposes. First, I love finding out more about the world, and I love sharing that knowledge with others. Sometimes this means learning about entirely new topics, and sometimes it means digging deeper into familiar ones. In all cases, it means going beyond simply “taking someone’s word for it.” It means understanding the logic and evidence behind their conclusions. It’s part of what I consider a healthy skepticism — not adversarial, mind you, but healthy. The kind that wants to understand new knowledge, not just memorize it. For it is in understanding that we are able to use that knowledge to its full potential.

Second (and perhaps more pragmatically), I want to become a better writer, and practice is the root of all skill. I spend a lot of time writing technical papers, but I want to work on writing for the general public and sharing the beauty of science and engineering. To me, this is one of the duties of any specialized profession — to communicate beyond a specific field, as well as to listen. Knowledge shouldn’t exist in silos. You don’t have to be a scientist or engineer to appreciate good science and engineering, just as you don’t have to be a dancer to appreciate ballet. So I hope that what I write here can be a portal into science for a broad audience, and that by writing it I can also learn to be a better communicator.

With that in mind, I’m going to ask for your help. In the posts to come, I’m going to try to walk the fine line between accurate and pedantic, while still being informative and (hopefully) entertaining. What I’m asking you for is feedback — please, tell me what’s working, what’s not, and what would you like to see more or less of. In addition, if there are any topics that you want to hear about — any hows and whys that you’ve been pondering — the suggestion box is open.

So, to sum it all up: I’m going to explore the world around us and try to understand how it works and why it is the way it is, and I’m going to share what I learn here. I hope you’ll join the adventure, and that you enjoy the site. And above all — I hope we all learn something new.

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