“What’s it like touring with a rock n roll particle physicist?”
Well, we speed down highways listening to Bruce Springsteen songs and occasionally making diversions into small towns so Brian can have a curry pie.
That’s quantum showbiz.
At times, Brian appears to be both eating a pie and NOT eating a pie, but that is more down to the speed he eats a pie. It’s a trick of the light, though the light does it without intention.
It is not superposition pastry.
All the above is factually correct.
We are in Sydney now, preparing for shows four and five.
Apart from the dead birds I kept stumbling upon, Canberra was a delight. I can’t blame the avian fatalities on Canberra, apparently it might be due to severe migration fatigue.
As well as all the art I interrogated, I was lured into Questacon.
In Natalie Angier’s The Canon, she notes that there seems to be an age where a child passes into a pretentious adulthood. The parent sees the science museum as something to toy with when the brain is at its most plastic and keen to pull levers, but as the structure solidifies, we must leave the science exhibits behind and peer at the lilies of Monet from a peculiar angle.
I hope this attitude is evaporating now. Seeing the delight adults have at the grown ups only Science Lates that have sprung up, pulling levers and scrutinising lunar modules is not just for children. I could gut the words of Oscar Wilde and type, “curiosity is wasted on the young”
but it’s not
so I won’t
(though I have).
It was thanks to a tweet from Geoff, an alumni of the traveling science circus, now a leader of the impending Australian Science Week that I found myself in Questacon. The building bubbled with excited schoolchildren, spilling from buses into exhibitions of spiders, elements, big fish, magnets and severe slides.
Sadly, I ran out of time before I could climb up and drop from the big slide.
(continued after picture)
The cloud chamber captured my mind and heart on this visit. It is such a simple, mesmerising detector of particles. A charged particle striking the liquid ionizes it and creates small cloud like shapes, the shapes change depending on the particle. I particularly enjoyed the muons. Looking at these frequent “strikes”, we wondered at what point nature might become art, or if we can happily view this spectacle without burdening it with the label of artists endeavour by a charged particle. I could, and one day will, spend hours watching the cloud trails of charged particles.
As Richard Feynman said, “the imagination of nature is far greater than the imagination of man”.
The Dancing Peacock spider was a further delight ,it’s only a recent human discovery.The male, as males so often do, puts on a fancy display, and if fancy enough, the female with both have sex with it, and devour it. Apparently, sometimes the male is only rewarded with the latter.
However much your offspring may think you are showing them up, remember Australian science week, and all the other science events and museums around the world, are not only there to intrigue child minds. You don’t have to disengage curiosity at voting age.
Questacon has a sculpture of Einstein’s head outside the building, beneath it are his famous words, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
He continued, in a sentence too long for a sculptural aphorism, “for knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”
Since I wrote the blog post above, I have been to Sydney’s MAAS for a Large Hadron Collider based lunch (this is not a lunch where the potato is prepared by firing spuds at each other at incredible speeds to discover why potatoes have mash, but merely themed around the opening of their Collider exhibition). Though I didn’t see a cloud chamber, we were lucky enough to be guided around the store rooms. The objects we revered varied from an enigma machine to an original Tina Sparkle dress (the one with the tropical fruits, Strictly Ballroom fans). The Collider exhibition, originating from the London Science Museum, opens to coincide with The Sydney Science Festival. I missed it in the Northern Hemisphere, so I was very happy to catch up with it in the Southern one. I remain astounded that we can interrogate what the universe is made of at such a scale. The process of discovering why bundles of protons are smashed together at speeds near that of light in the hope of discovering why the universe has mass is beautifully investigated and explained by this exhibition. Every diagram, panel and digital representation of the process on display illuminates and entices. I look on it all, squinting with confusion, as tantamount to sub-atomic witchcaft, but evidence based witchcraft. Later, when questioning Brian Cox on stage about the LHC, the sound of a choir bled through from another room. It was an accidental elevation of his scientific description to a religious ceremony. I feared that he would go on to say, “you see, every time two bundles of particles collide, it makes an angel”. Fortunately, he didn’t say that, but I did.
There are two Book Shambles Blue Dot Science special Podcasts coming up, they are available HERE
You can see Brian and I, or rather puppet Brian and I, going around the Science Museum in a series of films HERE (and keep an eye on http://www.cosmicgenome.com as they’ll be announcing a science tour of New Zealand and Australia very soon, hosted by me, with lots of guest.)
FOOTNOTE: Sorry for the mash joke