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'Transforming the Sciences'

A new multimedia presentation at the California Academy of Sciences' Morrison Planetarium illustrates how supercomputer technology is becoming an important scientific tool, says The New York Times' John Markoff. It's helping scientists make sense of the mounds of digital data they have to work with. New electron microscopes, telescopes, and particle colliders are now inseparable from computing power, and "it is the computers that let scientists find order and patterns in the raw information that the physical tools gather," Markoff adds. More and more, researchers are finding that computers not only help them in their work, but are raising the limits of what can be studied and what questions can be asked. The planetarium's production shows what can be done, featuring new tools that can get at anything from large-scale structures to the subatomic. Indiana University computer scientist Katy Börner calls this new class of scientific instruments "macroscopes," and tells Markoff that such instruments are making it possible for researchers to uncover phenomena and make discoveries that have been "too great, slow or complex for the human eye and mind to notice and comprehend."

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