Large Hadron Collider

The LHC at Cern will be switched on today, though there won't be collisions for a little while. The LHC will collide Hadrons (obviously) at high speeds. Hadrons are particles which contain quarks. Everyday examples are Protons and Neutrons. The LHC can only accelerate charged particles and so it'll collide protons. The high energy collisions will produce new and interesting particles - and the hope if to find the predicted Higgs Boson. Though if it's not found, that'll also be interesting....

There has been idle chat that it could create miniature black holes that'll destroy the Earth. This will not happen. It probably won't create black holes. But if it does create black holes they'll be moving so fast that they'll leave the Earth. Even if they don't they'll evaporate due to Hawking radiation as they're so small... and in the unlikely event that it does create a black hole that hangs around to destroy the planet - there'll be nobody to contradict me.

Seriously: cosmic rays have collided with the Earth with huge energies since time immemorial - a particle accelerator experiment in the upper atmosphere. We're still here.

As Wil Wheaton said on Twitter: "Stupid people at table next to me are convinced LHC will destroy the world tomorrow. Resisting urge to tell them how stupid they are. "

(P.S. I'm not saying this to boast, only to show that I know what I am talking about: I post as someone with a damned good Physics degree. Irrelevantly, I've visited LEP, the Large Electron Positron Collider and LHC's predecessor. Tragically, I took time out of my first USA trip to go to Fermilab. I've been to RAL in the UK many times.)

You could be Johnny

I've just posted the following to this article about the tendency in the UK to see being bad at Maths (and Science) as a mark of pride.

It really annoys me every time a presenter on the news 'jokes' that they can't do maths or science. Melvyn Bragg on the usually excellent "in our time" is another. If you can't do it, then research your topic - or at least stay quiet!

I grew up with Johnny Ball. I really miss him on TV - he was enthusiastic and willing to find out about things which he didn't know about. Today's "science" shows are more about blowing things up in the microwave, or the caravan (yes, Braniac, that means you).

An honourable exception is discovery's mythbusters (UK site) - they don't always get the scientific terms right (misusing terms like force, pressure etc, the narrator in the UK is especially guilty of this) - but they have the sense of the scientific method, and of exploration.

On UK TV, there is no modern equivalent. We need a modern day Johnny Ball! (Maybe next year it won't be 'You could be Nancy', but 'You could be Johnny' - I can only dream)

I really like the idea. Each week, wannabe Johnny's would present a piece about some aspect of science. It'd need to be fun, accessible, as well as being good science. The panel would consist of, a non-scientist, a scientist (not Adam Hart-Davies!) and the 'Lloyd-Webber figure' - Johnny Ball himself.

Each week, Graham Norton would tell the contenders 'You could be Johnny'.

The theme tune would end with Jack Nicholson bursting through a door saying "Here's Johnny!"

The public would vote (usually on style over substance) and there'd be a 'present-off' between the two who had the lowest public vote, they'd explain some particularly gnarly bit of science or maths. Johnny would save one of them.

I could be a getting a little flippant here, but I'm deadly serious about the issue at hand. Personally, I think some sort of contest might be a lot of fun, as well as helping to increase interest in science and maths. It could work, couldn't it?

How to Destroy the Earth

An amusing little documentary about 'How to Destroy the Earth' - and it's all factually correct (if silly).

One thing, with an anti-mountain, crashing it into the Earth from space isn't going to be a major factor - just being on Earth will do it. Admittedly though, the anti-mountain would have to be manufactured away from the Earth so it didn't annihilate as it was built, so....

Stunts and Science

This morning I woke up, as usual, to the Today Programme on the radio. I heard a discussion about the proposal to play golf on a spacewalk (as a stunt for a commercial) whilst at the same time long promised research is being cut:

Interviewee: This just shows that stunts are more important than science.

Cut to Nasa Spokesman: No-one is saying that stunts are more important than science....

"He just did!" I screamed.

It's terrible waking up when you're feeling pedantic.


I bought some chalk today, and after some experimenting I decided to have a go at an exercise in one of the art books which I bought. That is to take a photograph and attempt to copy it upside down. This is the result, which frankly I am both amazed and thrilled at.

Albert Einstein

It is a sketch in Chalk, fixed with spray as it's in my moleskine book. I am absolutely astounded with this - I drew it! I tried to draw the wife a few days ago, and the results were less than convincing, don't go hunting on the site, the pictures are not even worthy of that. The book I got is wonderful, I'm a convert, the simple act of turning a photo upside down works!

The thinking is that if you draw a face, your brain gets in the way, it interprets what it sees, 'nose', 'ear' and so on - and one draws the symbols, not the patterns of light and dark. This exercise is a first step to disconnecting the symbolic part of the brain and demonstrating to the student that it's the powers of observation which are the biggest impediment to progress.

It makes a sort of sense, though it does not stop it being magic.

The Calendar

At the moment I am reading The Calendar by David Ewing Duncan. This is a nice little book which covers the history of the calendar. Its brief takes us from carving notches on bones to count the days between full moons to trying to establish a true length for the year (and prevent the calendar drifting compared to the seasons).

The book encompasses science (astronomical measures), maths (being able to specify fractions of a day), religion (the date of easter) and history. It seamlessly takes us on a chronological journey through the ages.

I like cross-curricular books, my favourite books tend to be those which span subjects, as there is something familiar to take us on into the unknown. Also one can spot how one discipline feeds off another, other books of this ilk include Dava Sobel's "Longitude" and William Poundstone's "The Prisoner's Dilemma".

The closest I can find for users is a similar book by the same author. "Longitude" and "The Prisoner's Dilemma" are available in the US.