A Brief Outburst of Optimism Brought on By Science-minded Children

I would write that the Brian Cox tour T shirts, illustrated with multiverse diagrams and dark energy graphs, are selling like hot cakes. Then I realise that it is exactly that kind of imprecise measurement that has kept me in the arts while he spends time in earshot of particle accelerators.

It may be best to sum it up as, “they are selling with approximately the speed you would imagine T shirts of inflating space and bubble universes would sell at a Brian Cox show”.
Much like the Ramones or Motorhead T shirt, the trick is in both wearing it and having knowledge of it. “Oh yeah, well I love Ace of Spades and errrr…is there one about some sort of orgasm machine?” is not enough, just as “something about the universe and why it is so big, I think”. That is why I don’t wear mine in public. Fortunately, if you are struggling, they are T shirts with footnotes.
What has been encouraging, maybe even disturbingly encouraging, is the number of young people who almost instantly comprehend the professor’s cotton-wear.

During the second half of the show, I host a Q&A with Brian. The audience has many children using their parents’ twitter accounts to ask questions. Parents stumble out of the theatres, worrying that their children may be Midwich Cuckoos as they find themselves having cosmological conundrums explained to them by progeny that not so long ago required mashed food and potty training. At 11pm on Friday, we received a tweet of a ten year old in astronaut garb who had crashed and fallen fast asleep on the kitchen table, his dreams hopefully filled with strange and charming quarks.

Southend had the first question that sought confirmation that an equation was accurate before it was inked and tattooed on the questioner’s flesh.

From memory I think it was Einstein’s equation to show that the curvature of space-time equals the distribution of matter plus energy, but a Southend tattooist will know better than me by now.

Some questions betray the healthy pessimism that living in this universe may require.

“What would destroy earth first; Andromeda crashing into the milky way or the sun exploding?”

From what I can gather, there is good news now that when the sun swells into a red giant we won;t be engulfed as previously thought. On the down side, I think it is best we accept we are long gone by then, for both cosmological and political reasons.

“Did Schrodinger have any other pets?”

As far as I know, he didn’t even have a cat, but he did have the most dandified trousers of any twentieth century physicist of renown. (and now having typed that I can’t find any of the dandified trouser photographs I am sure are not merely a figment of my mind)

“Do you think tachyons exist? And If they did exist, would that imply time travel being possible?”

I think that was a “yes”, then a “probably no” answer.

“please tell me which female scientists I should follow & be inspired by, emma age 9 front row 🙂 “

We suggested @astrokatie @draliceroberts @monicagrady @carolynporco and I added the twitter-less Jocelyn Bell Burnell. And there’s @dr_black, @fryRSquared (keep adding in the comments if you wish).

Sometimes it’s “What are your thoughts on the simulation theory?”, sometimes it’s “What is Brian’s favourite cheese?” (whatever one goes best with Champagne I presume)

Probabilities of life beyond this planet, EmDrive as propulsion, and what lies on the other side of the edge of the universe have been popular. I am learning every day, though my mind seems to delete the wrong things while retaining detritus of nonsense and mass media fracas.

“Thomas age 12 were other universes created from the same big bang or were there other big bangs at different times?” or “what would the effects on earth be if the moon was twice as big or half its size? Jude Age 14.” are typically curious questions that then veer off in numerous directions.

In a world dubbed “post-fact”, and seemingly offering up harsh and ugly evidence of this (though as evidence no longer exists I presume I can strike these everyday occurrences from the record of my memory), it is encouraging that there are still many hungry for facts or, if not facts, at least science’s current least wrong version of matter and events.

This tour is sold out, but we are back in May. Dates are HERE.

You can find interviews with Brian Cox, Ben Goldacre, Hannah Fry, Alice Roberts and many more HERE plus podcasts and Brian Cox puppet action.

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6 Responses to A Brief Outburst of Optimism Brought on By Science-minded Children

  1. Bee Ballantyne says:

    We had such a great evening at Southend. I am the least sciencey person on the planet,( very good at making jam and Sloe gin) however my 14 year old son Henry is maths and science mad. I have never seen him applaud so enthusiastically at anything before and he was very happy that his question was read out. He said he thought that all science teachers should teach like Prof Cox, he makes it interesting so everyone can understand. Even I managed to understand some of it, a quite remarkable feat, as I usually disappear into a tiedye haze if particles and atoms are mentioned, and maths beyond arithmetic defeats me.So how much did I absorb? Well I got a science question right (answer black hole) on Universally Challenged last night which was a first. Which proves Henry ‘s theory right.

  2. Mark Smith says:

    Bee, I can assure you and Henry that most Physics teachers are just like Brian Cox, and would happily stand up and talk in that way about multiverses, galactic collisions and inflation theory every lesson…unfortunately, not all students are quite as keen on cosmology as Henry! I’m not totally sure that the government “gets it” either…the new curriculum is not designed for excitement!!

    • Bee Ballantyne says:

      I think he meant to make all physics lessons like this Mike, whatever they are learning about! Now there’s a challenge the government probably wouldn’t like either.

  3. Tori Herridge (@ToriHerridge, her current TV series is a joy). Prof Sophie Scott (@sophiescott). Lucie Green (@Dr_Lucie). Dorothy Bishop (@deevybee). Emily Lakdawalla ‏@elakdawalla.

  4. Best cheese with champagne? Try Loupeyrac. For some reason a mouthful of champagne makes the cheese taste like honey. As long as Brian likes honey, of course…

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