Big Science in my pocket

Big science in my pocket.

In the beginning of the scientific revolution scientific breaktrough was accomplished by lonely geniuses, at least if you take a romantic view at science. Sometimes I give myself permission to take the path of romanticism a indulge myself in the heroic stories of those with names like Newton, Huygens or Vesalius.

But when science progressed and the lonely geniuses became more and more part of international scientific networks a new art of science emerged. The called it Big Science. Experiments became so costly and instruments so huge that large teams of scientist have to flock together to manage them.

For a curator these Big Science projects are problematic. How on earth are we going to preserve a project like CERN for instance. And CERN is within reach. If you have the right access card you will be able to see it for yourself. But what if such a project is not on earth anymore?  The International Space Station is such a fine example of a project which can be visited by the happy few alone. For myself, the chances of becoming the first curator in space are reduced to the absolute minimum.

But until recently I feel myself connected with the ISS in a way I would not have expected a year before. Due to the magnificent webservice of and a briljant idea of freelance journalist and webdeveloper Jaap Meijers I gaze at the sky above from time to time. Why? Because ISS is passing over. It’s recognizable as a bright fast moving star.

How I know when to look up? Jaap built the Twitter application:  Twisst. An application you can run on your smartphone as well. What it does is very simple. You just follow @twisst and make sure Twitter knows your location. That’s all you have to do. Simple as that!

He himself can best explain how it works.

Infographic by O.K. PARKING /

Twisst is a mashup, combining several data sources to send out the ISS alerts. Here’s an explanation of how it all works.

  1. First, Twisst asks which twitter users are following the @twisst account and what location these people have entered in their Twitter profile.
  2. Next, these locations are ‘geocoded’. This means Twisst tries to find out what the geographic coordinates are for each location. Google Maps is used for this, or, when Google can’t figure out the right coordinates, Yahoo.
  3. When coordinates are found for the Twitter user, Twisst goes to the website to see when ISS will fly over at those coordinates.
  4. To find out what the local time is for the @twisst follower, Twisst asks the geographic database Geonames in which time zone the location is.
  5. So, every time the International Space Station is coming, Twisst sends the follower an alert throught Twitter. It announces when ISS will pass, at the users local time. Also Twisst tells whether it is a remarkable nice one or not – so how bright and how high the space station will be on that pass.”

Back to big science. The secret of  Twisst’s success lies in the idea that via the Twitter alerts you’re not only aware of this beautiful space station an the scientists working in it, but I always realize that within the few seconds of its passage a lot of other tweeps will also be looking up. What a way to connect people!

The best part however, from a curator point of view… Jaap did what I haven’t done before. He gave me Big Science in my pocket!

The Twisst app. Is now running for a Shorty Award, a Twitter Prize. Please vote for Twisst at:


For more info on Twisst or ISS check:


  1. I’m having a little bit of trouble viewing your site in Chrome, but it may just be my computer. Apart from that, I love your site. I plan on surfing around and checking out some more posts!
    Training An Older Dog

  2. Been lookin for some useful information for the past hour thanks for this!

  3. You post definitely was one of the best parts of my Saturday. I was on MSN searching for something totally unrelated when the blog caught my attention. I’m glad I took the time to read your post! Feel free to comment on my blog at Introduction To Welding if you get bored!

  4. MrBarns said:

    There is obviously a lot to learn. There are some good points here.

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 )

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: