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The development of the scientific experimental method has allowed us to explore the inner structure of atoms. Experiments have yielded values for the dimensions of electrons and atoms. Some experiments into the behavior of light are best described in terms of waves, but other experiments seem to require descriptions in terms of particles. A few of these crucial experiments will be described, as they give us a foundation for the comprehensive theories that we have been able to construct.
Science differs from other intellectual pursuits in that it makes predictions.
When a prediction is verified by a subsequent experiment, this vindicates currently accepted scientific theory. However, sometimes a prediction turns out to be incorrect, and this is most exciting because it forces a revolution in scientific thinking. In this way, observation of some planetary orbits forced the replacement of Newtonian gravity by Einstein's revolutionary new theory. Current scientific theory predicts the existence of "dark matter," but it has not yet been seen. Are we on the cusp of a new scientific breakthrough or must we wait until observational techniques are good enough to see it?
The universe began with hydrogen, helium, just a trace of lithium, and none of the other elements that are essential to life -- no carbon, no oxygen, no calcium, no iron, nothing else. Over the past sixty years the study of nuclear astrophysics has developed a comprehensive theory of the processes in stars showing how heavy atoms are synthesized from lighter ones, and explaining why some elements like carbon and oxygen are relatively common, while others, like silver, gold, platinum, and uranium are extremely rare.