Humans have been trying to make sense of the universe forever, and questions are a crucial part of scientific discoveries. Good scientific questions allow scientists, physicists, astronomers, and even philosophers discover more about the world around us and the intricate workings of the universe.
In this article, we’ll go over twenty of the major questions in science, in order to see how far we’ve come in understanding the universe and what remains to be discovered. Then, we’ll take a look at some scientific method questions and the anatomy of a good scientific question.
20 Big Questions in Science
1. What is the universe made of?
Astronomers still cannot account for 95% of the universe. Atoms, which were discovered to make up the world around us, is apparently only 5% of the universe’s makeup. In recent years, astronomers have postulated that a big portion of the remaining 95% may be a sort of dark matter or energy, but the question still remains to be answered.
2. How did life begin?
In anthropology it’s clear that this is a universal question that each culture and religion has tried to answer. Scientists show that life began with simple chemicals that came together and became the first replicating molecules. However, scientists are still arguing about how these first chemicals arranged themselves, or how DNA was formed, etc. Scientists also argue about the circumstances of these first chemicals, with some believing that they originated in hot pools, while others believe it began with meteorites colliding with water.
3. Are we alone in the universe?
Astronomers have been searching the universe for signs of other life as well as habitable planets. Astronomers have created radio telescopes which pick up messages from other planets, as well as scan atmospheres of other planets to detect habitable conditions which might be home to other lifeforms. The scans have revealed a whopping 60 billion habitable planets in the Milky Way.
4. What makes us human?
Scientists (and philosophers, for that matter) have been trying to discover what makes us uniquely human and distinguishable from animals. DNA itself shows little differentiation between humans and apes. The human genome is 99% identical to a chimpanzee’s, for example, and 50% identical to various vegetation. Humans have been thought to be different based on intelligence, language, and the utilization of tools, but all these theories have been disproved by studying animals who show the same traits. Some scientists believe the brains of humans were enlarged by the unique use of fire and cooking; others believe that humans have a unique ability for cooperation and skill-trading which allows us to create civilizations.
5. What is consciousness?
We are not sure what consciousness is, where it is located in the brain, or why we are conscious. Scientists agree that consciousness is made up of a network of brain regions as opposed to one particular part, but other than that, the question of consciousness is still puzzling for both scientists and philosophers.
6. Why do we dream?
The question of sleep and dreams have been an intriguing topic for scientists and psychologists alike. The famous Sigmund Freud believed that dreams expressed unfulfilled desires, while others believe that dreams are merely random firings of the brain. Recent studies on animals, using brain imaging technology, have showcased that sleep and dreams play a significant role in memory, learning, and emotions.
7. Why is there stuff?
This “stuff” is called matter, and the more scientists discover about matter and its counterpart, antimatter, the more puzzling it seems that anything exists. When matter and antimatter meet, they both disappear, so it seems that the universe has a bias toward matter existing.
8. Are there other universes?
Cosmology and quantum physics are leaning toward the possibility of other universes and realities. The universe seems so fine-tuned that it would take an infinite amount of possibilities to end up in this particular universe.
9. Where do we put all the carbon?
In the last couple hundred years, humans have been releasing a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels. A major question now is how to maintain the earth’s equilibrium or store the carbon away to prevent further damage.
10. How do we get more energy from the sun?
With the attempt to lessen the use of fossil fuels, as well as the issue of dwindling resources, scientists are searching for alternative energy sources. The sun provides solar power, and we are also attempting to use sunlight’s energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen in order to fuel cars in a cleaner way.
11. What’s so weird about prime numbers?
Those prime numbers that seemed useless in math class are actually the building blocks to the internet and the public key encryption which uses prime numbers to protect and lock sensitive information online. Some of the brightest minds in mathematics are still scratching their heads over the mystery of prime numbers and the patterns within them.
12. How do we beat bacteria?
Antibiotics, one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine, have helped beat some of the deadliest diseases as well as make surgery and chemotherapy possible. However, overmedication and misuse of antibiotics have led to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Scientists are looking for new ways to prevent disease and searching for new bacteria in the oceans.
13. Can computers keep getting faster?
A typical smartphone contains more computing power than ever before. Now, some are wondering if our advanced technology can be further increased. Some suggestions to doing so include atomically thin carbon, called graphene, or new systems such as quantum computing.
14. Will we ever cure cancer?
Though we are getting better at cancer prevention and treatment, the end-all cure to cancer may never be possible. However, half of all cancers are preventable with simple, yet significant changes in lifestyle and health; such as avoiding smoking, alcohol, and prolonged exposure to harsh sun, as well as maintaining a healthy diet and exercise.
15. When can I have a robot butler?
Modern robotics may be more advanced than most people realize. Robotics are already responsible for sending out shipments, milking cows, creating most products, sorting emails, and lots more. The question of artificial intelligence, however, is a trickier topic. Though we may trust robotics to take care of many manual and technological tasks, we are not yet sure whether we would want artificial intelligence in the realm of human roles, such as Japan’s plan to have robots care for the elderly.
16. What’s at the bottom of the ocean?
It’s incredible that 95% of the ocean is completely unexplored. In 1960, sea explorers went seven miles deep — the farthest ever ventured — and the discoveries so far have included some bizarre fish, as well a possible cure for Alzheimer’s disease from crustaceans.
17. What’s at the bottom of a black hole?
According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, a black hole is created when a dying star cave in, creating a small point called a singularity. Quantum physics, on the other hand, has a completely different theory. Over decades, scientists have tried and failed to unify the two theories. Recently, a new idea called M-theory has become the leading candidate.
18. Can we live forever?
Ageing has always been a fact of life, but recently, scientists are becoming more equipped — through DNA and the genes that regulate reproductive health and metabolism — to study ageing and suggest treatments and drugs to prolong life. However, the question is not whether humans can live forever, but how we can improve health into old age.
19. How do we solve the population problem?
Since the 1960’s the population has almost doubled to 7 billion people, with an estimate of growth to 9 billion by the year 2050. With the rise in population, questions about housing, food, and fuel become crucial. In order to have enough resources and land for all these people, some are debating solutions like inhabiting other planets, building underground, and creating lab-grown meat.
20. Is time travel possible?
Though this may seem like an impossible concept only seen in sci-fi movies, time travel may in fact be possible one day. Einstein’s theory of special relativity has made it possible for astronauts orbiting on the international space station to experience time at a slower rate. Though the effect is limited, this theory may make it possible to travel many years into the future. Wormholes and spaceships may have a hand in physicist’s blueprint to traveling back in time.
Tips For Asking Good Scientific Questions
A crucial factor in doing good research is learning how to ask good scientific questions. By definition, scientific discoveries are proven through observation and evidence. In order to know where to look, scientists need to know exactly what they’re looking for, and how to word their questions in a way that will lead their scientific research.
Below is a step-by-step process to ask an effective scientific question:
Begin by asking several questions
Ask a few questions that interest you on a topic. For example, if you want to know more about how your garden produces vegetables and plants, you may begin by asking several questions, such as how seeds grow, how plants absorb nutrients, and more.
Now that you have a general direction, eliminate any questions that cannot be scientifically proven through observation. This cuts out any questions which are based on opinion, beliefs, or values.
Break down broad questions
Take your remaining questions and break them down into more specific questions. Following our garden question, you might ask, “how do various factors affect seed germination?” or “what factors are necessary for the seed germination of a garden tomato?”
Word questions for experiments
Now that you know what you want to research, word your question in order to prepare it for experimentation. Some experiment-based questions may begin with, “what is the relationship between ___ and ___?” or “what is the effect of ___ on ___?”
These big scientific questions are the foundation of all the major scientific discoveries.
With so much in the universe yet to be discovered, it’s fascinating to see how far scientists have come, and how far we still want to go in uncovering the mysteries of the universe. All these discoveries started with a scientific question, and a good scientific method for asking questions is crucial for understanding the world around us.