In the same week that the BBC’s viewing figures reached a staggering 5 million for The Wonders of Solar System, the programme’s presenter and rising star of science broadcasting Professor Brian Cox came to Swindon to deliver a lecture in the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Talking Science series.
Juliet Platt and her children Caitlin and Ian, right, didn’t mind admitting being star-struck indeed.
Professor Cox is known as the rock star physicist, having played keyboards on D:ream’s pop hit-cum-New Labour theme tune Things Can Only Get Better in 1997. He is obviously vey comfortable with viewing figures into the millions, as even more massive numbers trip off his tongue during his descriptions of cosmic distances, the relative size of heavenly bodies, and the speeds at which particles are smashed together inside the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
During his lecture at the County Ground Professor Cox presented images of Earth from various distances in the universe, transmitted over the years from Apollos 8 and 11, from Voyager, Cassini and Hubble. He commented that such pictures have a tremendous emotional and cultural effect on us, declaring the Apollo images to have “saved the year” in 1968, when the world was plagued by riots and war.
Next was a whirlwind tour through elementary particles and an enlightening explanation of the object of the scientists’ search at the LHC – namely the Higgs particle, and how they are going about looking for it.
The Higgs is believed to give mass to other particles, and theoretically came into being 1 billionth of a second after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. It has been shown to be the missing piece that makes the maths actually work. All that remains now is to find one!
Urging us to imagine a penicillin- and electricity-free world, where scientific funding had been withdrawn at the turn of the nineteenth century, Brian Cox made a compelling argument for the importance of on-going R&D and scientific exploration. He pointed out that out of total government spending of £621 billion, the entire science research budget represents just over 0.5%.
Judging by the youthful audience there is no doubt that Professor Cox is playing a vital role in engaging a new generation of scientists. His style of delivery, and the real-life examples he uses to illustrate scientific facts that are beyond mind-boggling, mean that even six-year-old children like my daughter managed to sit still for almost the whole hour. And while others asked about worm-holes, religion, the moment of singularity and collision chambers at CERN, she asked her CBBC Spacehoppers idol about his favourite planet.
“Earth, because it’s so valuable. And my other favourite thing, though it’s not a planet, is Jupiter’s moon of Titan,” he replied.
To find out why, tune in to The Wonders of the Solar System on Sunday.
The next free ‘Talking Science’ lecture takes place at the County Ground on 15 April when Professor Tim West explains how powerful beams of light are helping to preserve the world’s most important documents. For more information or to reserve a place for STFC at STFC, call 01793 442092 or go to http://www.stfc.ac.uk/stfc@stfc
Right, Brian Cox’s favourite place in the universe – the earth