Monday 5 October 2009

Brian Cox at TAM London

Last weekend I attended The Amaz!ng Meeting, London, put on by the James Randi Educational Foundation. This was the first TAM to be held beyond the shores of North America. It more than fulfilled my expectations and I had a great time. I'll post some of my impressions here, beginning with the first presentation.

It was a scheduling masterstroke to kick off TAM London with a lavishly illustrated presentation by Professor Brian Cox, who explained the purpose behind the Large Hadron Collider (and, incidentally, behind scientific research in general). He outlined the LHC's current state, and by way of a compressed but lucid lecture on cosmology and leading-edge particle physics he showed why this huge accelerator beneath the Swiss-French border is important. His elaboration of the problem that caused the LHC to be shut down shortly after it was commissioned was the clearest I've heard.

His main point was that while it's possible to theorise about scientific subjects, ultimately such theories have to be tested, and when it comes to particle physics, the only way of testing them is with something like the LHC. He also covered the media's misguided panic over the possibility of the LHC producing miniature black holes, listing some media quotes from a number of scientists - including himself: "Anyone who thinks the LHC will destroy the world is a twat."

In Brian Cox we are fortunate to have someone who not only knows his subject inside out, but is also able to communicate abstruse ideas with clarity, wit and passion. (It's no surprise that one of his scientific heroes is Carl Sagan.)