10 apps for expanding your mind

6. Art Authority

Price: £6.99
Works with: iPad

Like art? Then £7 is a steal for lifetime entry to this virtual art museum

Art authority

Brick-and-mortar museums often compete for famous artworks, making complete collections hard to come by. But this is Art Authority, and by dispensing with the legwork it can boast a collection of works by over 1,000 of the western world's major artists.

Organised by period, the main room displays a key painting from each – Ancient, Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic, Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary. Tap paintings to enter rooms and view a breakdown of the major styles of the period. Check the timeline, get an overview, or search for an artist in the list.

Works can be viewed framed or fullscreen, singularly or as a slideshow, played to music, favourited, saved to your Photos, and even checked on Wikipedia – all from the helpful overlay. You can consult the Directory to search by artist, title, subject or location. And there's no closing time!

7. Dinosaur Zoo

Price: £1.49
Works with: iPad

Who needs security fences when the dinosaurs are this well behaved?

Dinosaur zoo

Kids love dinosaurs, and, given a chance, most adults will admit a fascination with these extinct vertebrates that never truly fades. But put down the superglue and clear out those old balsa models, because this is Dinosaur Zoo, and you just got a life-long pass.

Your private tour will feature sumptuously rendered animation the likes of which would have Spielberg drooling, not to mention brilliant sound effects that bring to life the habitats you will visit. You could swim with a carcharodon, feed fish to an ornithocheirus, or meet an argentinosaurus with an atrocious case of wind.

Each dino comes with a field guide of fascinating facts, including palaeontologist notes, fossil discoveries and a rundown of basic anatomy. A map indicates your dino's place of origin, but swipe between geologic periods and you'll also see the continents shift over millions of years. A starter pack of eight animals is included, with free dino packs released regularly. Worth every penny.

8. Nature Human Genome

Price: Free
Works with: iPad

Delve into the tantalising complexity of the draft genome sequence

Nature human genome

In the distant past (well, the year 2000), several leading scientists announced to great fanfare how they'd finally drafted the entire human genome sequence, heralding a breakthrough in our understanding of DNA and ushering in a new era of medicine. Since then, things have gone quiet on the genome front; have you ever wondered why?

Designed by the folks at Nature, Nature Human Genome squarely aims to answer that question. Featuring landmark research, interactive graphics, video commentary, editorial and opinion, this is a one-stop app for understanding what scientists discovered about genes, and how much remains so thoroughly unexplained.

Learn how your DNA is like a fractal pattern in complexity, and about the challenges molecular biologists face in charting the dynamic interplay of genes in protein synthesis.

9. HowStuffWorks

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad

Peel back the surface of everyday things to understand their workings


Ever wondered how spam email works? Or if a car can run on nuclear power? Do fish feel pain? And can blood be used to power batteries? These are just a few of the offbeat, intriguing questions that you can find answers for using the companion app to Discovery's popular edutainment website HowStuffWorks.com.

Boasting a database of over 30,000 articles on everything from how engines operate to the world's most endangered species, HowStuffWorks is the perfect app for real-world reference or just plain curiosity.

Articles are categorised by popularity, adventure and animals, while sub-categories and a search facility offer more refined exploration. The app also acts as a streaming portal to an online archive of interesting blogs, podcasts and videos, organised under titles like Stuff You Missed in History Class, and Stuff to Blow Your Mind.

A raft of facts and quotes are also on hand at the tap of a button, altogether making this a knowledge freak's dream.

10. Science360

Price: Free
Works with: iPad

Become an intrepid explorer of science with this globe-spanning app


Keeping abreast of scientific progress is a struggle at the best of times. Science360 aims to lessen the strain by acting as a doorway into global developments. The 360 in the title refers to the interface – a panning 3D bubble of content viewed from within and navigated by swipes and pinches.

Tap tiles in the sphere and you're treated to fantastic annotated images and video focusing on a range of cuttingedge scientific topics you can share over Twitter, Facebook or email.

Despite the odd stutter, the 3D presentation is engaging, adding character to the app and a sense of depth to browsing. It also keeps you up to date with breaking news from institutions across the US.