AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXIX , No. 1, Spring 2007


New Web Exhibit Explores the History of Cosmology
by Joe Anderson

The main page for the online exhibit on Cosmology:

A new AIP History Center website tells with unprecedented depth, accuracy and excitement how scientists have explored the structure of the universe. “Cosmic Journey: A History of Scientific Cosmology” ( is the newest of a dozen exhibits in the Center’s “Exhibit Hall.” “Cosmic Journey” is the largest of these exhibits, with more than 35,000 words and 380 illustrations.

The exhibit exploits the potential of web hypertext by mirroring the structure of science itself. The pages are arranged in two parallel columns, “Ideas of Cosmology” and “Tools of Cosmology.” Readers could choose “Ideas” first, going down the sequence of those pages, from the musings of Plato to current theories of the Big Bang. Or they could follow the “Tools” sequence from primitive navigational instruments to extraordinary astronomical satellites. Whereas some readers like to follow such a linear sequence, others prefer to explore along spontaneous paths, and these readers can follow links back and forth to discover, for example, how advances in telescope engineering led to better theories and how advances in theory spurred the development of new instruments. Readers can also step aside for vignettes on topics like “Women in Astronomy,” “How Old is the Universe?” or “Computer Models.”

The exhibit has many brief biographical side-pages on the tenacious, proud and often surprising scientists themselves. The topics are illustrated with old drawings, modern photographs and explanatory diagrams and animations. There is even a sound clip from a concerto composed by the great astronomer William Herschel, who began his career as a court musician.The “Ideas” section was written by Norris Hetherington and the “Tools” section by Patrick McCray, each a leading historian in his subject. Other experts generously reviewed the exhibit for accuracy. The editing and layout were supervised by Center Director Spencer Weart, who has produced all the other history of science exhibits on the AIP Center’s web “Exhibit Hall” ( This Website draws more than a million visitors a month, ranging from school children to retirees, from almost every country in the world. A text-only version of “Cosmic Journey” will be prepared for the sight-impaired. Because of the popularity and value of this Website, any item on it gets a good ranking in search algorithms; already a query on the terms “history cosmology” will find the new exhibit on the first page of leading search engines.

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