Best science apps for the iPad

If the treatment of Wired, the Financial Times and the BBC shows the iPad holds a lot of promise for a moribund media, signs are also good that this device and the new wave of touch-screen tablet computers could do great things for communicating science.

I’ve been using the iPad for around six weeks now and have pillaged the App Store of everything science-related as well as checking out what science magazines and journals are already available for the iPad through other online outlets such as Zinio.

So far the range is limited, but the handful of apps already in circulation suggest the iPad’s interface is a natural fit with science when it comes to getting across scientific concepts across all sorts of areas of science. Astronomy in particular features prominently among the first wave of iPad apps as my top 10 list of science-related iPad apps shows…

Top science-related iPad apps available (so far)

Star Walk

This one Night-Skyhas been winning plaudits all over the web – an interactive star chart that uses the iPad’s GPS chip to find out where you are and display all of the stars, planets and constellations that are visible from where you are. You can hold the iPad above your head to line up the cellestial bodies so you know where to look.

PadGadget adds: “Other nice touches include, the Time Machine feature which show the night sky over a multiple year period. Sky Live gives you a view of the moon’s phases and elevation, as well as rising data for the Sun, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter and Venus.  Picture of the Day gives you access to a nice library of space imagery”.

Price: NZ$6.49

Science Glossary @ Vision Learning

vision learningA sort of Wikipedia for science, for the iPad. This easy to use glossary of scientific terms and concepts is from Vision Learning, which offers a lot of very good free explanatory articles on science related subjects on the web. All of that info has been tailored to the iPad in a user-friendly app. The best thing is that it is free. I’d like to see a more expansive reference app building on the Science Glossary – more of a true Wikipedia for science, with embedded video, audio and diagrams to enhance the experience. Maybe they are saving that for version 2…

Price: Free

Newton’s Cradle

newtonA surprisingly simple but addictive little app for the iPad which replicates in digital form Newton’s cradle, the device Newton built to show how momentum and the transfer of energy works. It’s also become a fashionable gadget for executives to have on their desks in recent years, the clicking of the balls as they strike each other in time can also be quite relaxing. The physics are nicely replicated on the iPad, which when propped up on a stand can double for your own Newton’s cradle for your desk. Not much else to see here, but an enjoyable little app well engineered for the iPad and designed to make you thnk about the physical forces that define our existence.

Price: US$2.99


wolframIt hasn’t really caught on with mainstream web users, but the WolframAlpha search engine is incredibly useful, particularly for science-related queries. This app, specially formatting search results for the iPad doesn’t offer up anything more than you would get search via a regular browser, but its a lovely looking app, that presents results in a fresh, attractive way. Map integration with results is a nice touch too. I can see researchers finding this a highly useful tool to have near at hand. Well worth the money.

Price: US$2.59

3D Musculoskeletal Anatomy Quiz

muscleA set of sophisticated for the apps for the iPad deal in great depths with human anatomy and let you explore parts of the body with medical and anatomy related quizes to test your knowledge of the human body. I found even the entry level questions difficult, but its a fascinating way to acquanit yourself with aspects of the human body and challenge yourself at the same time – something that is more likely to make your remeber what you’ve learnt. The entry level quiz apps are free, but more indepth apps priced at US$19.99 go into human anatomy in great depth and employ rotatable 3D images as well. Very slick.

Price: Free through to US$19.99


supernovaA fairly simple but spectacular looking astronomy-related app that lets you navigate your way around an exploding star. I like playing with this one late at night before bed. It’s very relaxing in a new-age sort of way! Here’s some more background about how the app was created but it was apparently inspired by photography from the Hubble space telescope.

Price: US$0.99

Others of note:

Popular Mechanics – Available formatted for the iPad through the Zinio electronic publishing system. Nothing fancy here in the way the magazine is delivered on the iPad which is a little disappointing. But Wired’s interactive features shows what is possible for science publications on the iPad especially when it comes to infographics and embedded video.

Price: US$12 for a 12 month subscription (75 per cent discount)

Science Illustrated – Similar story to Popular Mechanics – looks great, but nothing sensational in the functionality department. Still, as a magazine that is near impossible to get in New Zealand (and an airfreighted copy will cost a bomb if you do find one), this is a nice way to acquaint yourself with a good looking popular science magazine that places an emphasis on beautiful imagery.

Price: US$24 for a 12 month subscription (60 per cent discount)

Solar Walk – A great little app that gives you a scale model of the solar system and lets you use the iPad’s touch screen to navigate your way through it, gaining different perspectives on planets and moons as you observe from different parts of the solar system.

Price: US$4.19

Any other great science apps I’ve yet to come across?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s