I was fortunate enough to take our competition winners, Ben 12 and his dad Chris to see Brian Cox’s Universal tour last night in Sheffield along with my 12 year old son Oscar.
What can I say, it was mind-blowing, that’s the phrase my son used and I totally agree. The stage first erupted with music and quotes from great scientists and cosmologists to set the scene along with beautiful images of our solar system and beyond. When Brian first came out in his well-known attire of leather jacket, t-shirt and black jeans, he said we were just chatting backstage about how fantastic it is that over 5000 people are here to discuss cosmology on a Sunday evening. Later he asked if anyone was an amateur astronomer, no one put their hands up and later when he asked if anyone was a physicist and again no hands….this summed up theaudience, a huge range of people from all ages (I would guess ranging from 5 to 85) and we were all there to learn about the wonders of the universe and none of us were specialists in these fields, we were normal people inspired by Brian’s incredible ability to make one of the most complex subjects accessible to all.
The show started with a whistle stop tour of the theory of relativity in language we could all understand, fantastic images which enabled us to grasp how incredibly insignificant our tiny planet is in the grand scheme of the universe. Then he brought us back to the meaning of life, why we can’t time travel, how the early scientists like Einstein, discovered how science can answer some of the most fundamental questions about our place in the cosmos; from this insignificant speck of dust how we came to exist, the infinitesimally small chance that the correct geochemistry became biochemistry and cells became organisms that could begin to evolve all those billions of years ago. He demonstrated with fantastic graphics the physics of a black hole. We came to understand how insignificant the planet is and yet how significant it is that we are unique (as far as we know) in the milky as we are the only planet to experience the complex mix of chance and physics that enabled life on earth. He demonstrated why the chances of “alien” life within our universe are so remote and where the most likely places for single cell organisms lie. He showed us how our lives progress and interact with others and one of the most fantastic take-aways was that we exist with others one day and a week later if we come together we have aged at a different rate based on the experiences that we have had.
Brian later used an Irish coffee to demonstrate how the world had existed for billions of years before life existed and that it is constantly ageing and we are in a state of flux (like the stirring of the cream into the coffee) and that our lives on earth are relatively short and very precious, as is the life of our planet which is also ageing.
In the mix of the show came on Robin Ince his co-presenter from the BBC4 show the Infinite monkey cage, Robin brought us back to earth with witty jibes about Brian and wonderful glimpses of how science has made him interact with his son and shaped his understanding of the meaning of life. During the show we were invited to provide questions for the Q&A session that Robin presented. This provided an opportunity for Brian to answer questions from audience members as young as five, such as “how do we know if a giant dinosaur hasn’t eaten loads of planets in the galaxy?” He answered all questions with both humour and respect. It was wonderful to hear how such young kids were interacting with such a subject.
Oscar said that the most exciting thing he learned about is “the beginning of our planet, the picture that showed how it was a primordial soup and then when it cooled it helped cells be created and then multiple cell organisms that turn into living things”.
Ben said his favourite thing was “the amazing graphics that showed the massive size of the universe and the power of a black hole”. His dad was moved by how many people were interested in science and the universe. He said “Prof Cox has made the subject more accessible due to the language he uses for everyone to understand and in part enables us all to have a glimpse of our universe”.
What a fantastic experience, what a fantastic science communicator. These are the people that can inspire us all to think more deeply about the wonders of the universe and to demonstrate why science research is so crucial.