The 10 best iPad and iPhone science apps 2013

Turn your iPad or iPhone into an all-knowing guru with our top ten favourite science apps…

11th June 2013
The 10 best iPad and iPhone science apps 2013

The Particles

iPad; Science Photo Library; £5.49

This app has a stab at introducing the layman to the world of particle physics, but you get the feeling the author thought, ‘To hell with this; I’m not going to dumb it down’. And that persists throughout as you explore quarks, bosons, mesons and baryons.

Happily, if you have a decent grasp of the basics, you’ll enjoy reading this catalogue of fundamental particles. Terms are hyperlinked to a glossary, and there are plenty of animated diagrams. It could be prettier, but it’s packed with crunchy information.



iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch; Kinosis Ltd; free

Those with a hankering to perform a little light surgery (perhaps medical students, or enthusiastic amateurs) can try it within the safety of this free app. In it, you’re guided through a series of operations – an open appendectomy, say, or something simple (simple, they say!) like trochanteric wiring.

You use the iPad’s touchscreen to make incisions and more on a frighteningly realistic 3D model. It’s fascinating stuff, but definitely not one for those with delicate stomachs.

BBC Earth Wonders

iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch; BBC Worldwide; £2.49

On one hand, this app is just a collection of over 500 photos and 50 short HD video clips culled from BBC series such as Frozen Planet, Planet Earth and the Life collection. But on the other hand, what’s not to love about that?

Its navigation and grouping are a little haphazard, but there’s a good amount of information here, and of course the photos and videos are stunning. It’s nice they’re overlaid with ambient natural sounds, but we wish the clips were longer. The ‘Picture Of The Day’ feature keeps you coming back.


Oh No Fractions!

iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch; Curious Hat Inc; free

This seems like a throwaway, simple little app for kids, and we were all set to dismiss it as such when we decided to give it a go anyway on a whim – and found there’s just something about it that keeps you having one more go.

Here’s what it does: you’re given two fractions – 3/7 and 2/3, say – and you have to say which is bigger. You can have a peek at the answer, or drag sliders to confirm once you’ve answered right or wrong. That’s it. And yet we can’t stop! 3/4 or 2/8? Easy, 3/4! 3/5 or 4/7? Eas… no wait, hang on…

WWF Together

iPad; World Wildlife Fund; free

This is a truly wonderful app that cleverly uses the iPad’s tech to help you understand the wonder and majesty of some of our most spectacular species.

For each of the animals – giant pandas, snow leopards, marine turtles and more – there are galleries and fun facts, but the real delight is some of the storytelling ‘toys’. Nudge ice floes out of the way and chop down a panda’s bamboo to reveal messages, stay as still as a polar bear hunting, and even simulate how much better a tiger’s vision is than yours. A joy!

Powers of Minus Ten – Bone

iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch; Green-Eye Visualization; free

This app is a fun way to explore your bones. You can zoom closer and closer to understand what’s happening at the micro level. Once you’re in as far as you can go, you’re exploring the atoms in the DNA, with the calibration scale at the bottom reading 300 picometres (that’s 300 trillionths of a metre).

And on the way you’ve learned about ribosomes, osteoblasts (cells that secrete bone) and more, in an interactive 3D model. It’s certainly not bone dry (ahem).

NASA Earth As Art

iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch; NASA; free

Landsat 5 started orbiting Earth in 1984, capturing images of tsunamis, forest fires, oil spills and more. Now, as it’s being decommissioned, NASA has launched a book and app featuring some stunning photos shot by the satellite and its orbiting chums Landsat 7, Terra, EO-1 and Aqua.

Though the app itself is a little plain, and the information about each shot not as detailed as we’d have liked, you can lose yourself in the images – showing phenomena such as gravity waves as well as beautiful vistas – for hours.

MyScript Calculator

iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch; Vision Objects; free

Throw away your calculator. This wonderful app lets you scribble down calculations using just your finger, and pops out the right answer. Its handwriting recognition is excellent, and it supports a broad range of operators – exponentials, trigonometry, logarithms, square root and more.

It’s a great way to express calculations naturally, and once you’ve written one down, you can even edit it, correcting mistakes with a simple scribble gesture, or augment it, for instance by enclosing it in brackets to do something else to the result.

Pyramids 3D

iPad; Touch Press LLP; £9.99

On one hand, an app such as this that lets you explore the tombs of the Giza Plateau is no substitute for going there and exploring in real life. But on the other, you wouldn’t have world authorities guiding you round the sites if you did.

It’s a wonderfully immersive app that lets you not only walk round and find out about the tombs of Meresankh, Tjetu, King Khafre and more in full 3D, but is packed with then-and-now photos and reconstructions. We lost ourselves for an entire afternoon, and kept coming back!

Atlas by Collins

iPad, iPhone, iPod touch; HarperCollins; £4.99

Imagine a prince in times gone by. He’s not only given a set of accurate globes – one that shows physical features, one political boundaries, one a satellite photo  of the world and so on – but also a tutor  who can always answer him when he spins the globe, points to something and asks “what’s this?”.

That’s what you get with this app. Pinch to zoom, swipe to rotate – or, using the gyroscope, just move your device – and, at any time, tap a button for more on what you’re looking at.

Words: Christopher Phin, editor of MacFormat magazine

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