TV’s Favourite Physicist comes good

The Lad read a Sunday Paper Colour Supplement piece about Professor Brian Cox; the man and his views. The Lad is not usually struck by Colour Supplement pieces but this time, for a change , liked what he saw [See The Sunday Times magazine 27.2.2011, page 14, “The New Mister Universe”].

As you might expect in the current, media universe, Professor Cox is known and mainly defined apparently by two things: one thing is his being the presenter of both last year’s popular BBC TV programme “Wonders of the Solar System” and also the coming programme on an entirely different Universe and the other thing is – spoken after an indrawn breath – his once being the keyboard player of a famous rock band that wrote a track that became the theme song of a political party. And, by the way would you believe, he is a Prof at some University!

The Lad assumes that he no longer plays in that band – if it still exists. Ow! That’s a sour, irascible, old-mannish crustiness. Don’t be miserable.

He was in the band during his PhD student days in the band, see and the current link is Subsequently,  he has become a professor of Physics at the University of Manchester. Visit , the Particle Physicles Group.

In between he worked at that incredible place CERN, or l’Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire. Start learning about it at . He was working on and with that vast machine called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which is a circular tunnel many miles in circumference and buried under the soil of France and Switzerland. It is not just a tunnel though. It is filled with gigantic, high accuracy engineering structures and vast electromagnets the size of buildings. Its purpose is to accelerate atomic particles to speeds close to the speed of light and allow the physicists to study the results when they collide with each other.

The Lad was fully expecting the article to describe a newspaper world that is divided only into the meeja, politicos, plebs and boffins (in white coats of course). Indeed an actual quote from the article was that “you can be cool and a scientist” Perleese!

However, even as a trendily dressed whirlwind, Cox soon painted a diferent picture. He outlined poetically imagined narratives of the world of Solar Systems, galaxies in astronomy. But The Lad noted a crucial quote. Cox said that he wanted to get the Prime Minister to want Britain “to be the best place for science and engineering in the world”. The Lad celebrates him and wishes he could be mates with him for simply saying that.

Brian Cox also had a pretty take on life and civilisation that The Lad liked although it is not engineering. Here is a rather drastically shortened extract. 

“…there’s a finite time during the universe’s adolescence when life is possible.   …it’s an instant,   ……….. that time is now.     ………Civilisation is the seventh wonder of the universe. We’re the universe made conscious.”

Very nice idea. Professor Cox then went on to tell very interesting stories about the physiscists and their work at CERN delving into the mysteries of matter and energy in the Universe. But The Lad wants here to praise the vital part played by the engineers who designed and developed the LHC as a machine. The Lad will seek out some information on the engineering of the LHC and, if successful, he will make it the subject of a future post. Perhaps the CERN will let me use some pictures.

The Lad makes distinctions between science and technology. The latter is mostly one form or another of engineering. A simplified version of the distinction, he believes, can start from the fact that the explorers in the fields of science can follow, to a large degree, the paths that interest them; or at least the paths that interest their research supervisors. Any data is worthwhile to support a particular theory, or not. Even apparent lack of, say, a correlation can be useful.

On the other hand, the engineer has to follow the path that can be powered by risk capital and is constrained by the rigid boundaries of what is possible as defined by the forces of the brute world. Circumventing these forces is sometimes possible but denying them is not. The Lad does not disparage the sciences at all; for it is usually a scientist in her research that discovers, defines, measures and sometimes estimates those forces of the brute world. The engineer cannot do anything but make use of her work and that of her colleagues.

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