Robin Ince explains what happens when comedy meets physics - BBC News School Report
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, Professor Brian Cox will reveal the secrets of our favourite Ticket Raffle · Meet Alice Roberts · Meet Aoife McLysaght · About who am I · Support our lectures . Professor Brian Cox and Doctor's Who Tardis at the Royal Institution. Credit: BBC. 24 October Brian Cox visits MMB to meet his cartoon alter-ego. 04 Oct Dundee University Rector Brian Cox met his own bacterial alter-ego when he visited a student. Professor Brian Cox talks about religion, alien life and the Reithian ideals behind “I was playing keyboard so I was always at the back,” he tells me, when we meet to discuss Human Universe, his cosmology 11 Sep
Here we go — I remember that one from last time; it's when the universe was formed. And every single joule of energy around today was present then, because of the first law of thermodynamics, obviously. And here's another massive one coming: How did we get from the dragonfly to here? Well, the dragonfly got us thinking about what makes something alive, and how life began in the first place.
But Prof Brian isn't all snooty and dismissive of the spirit people; he's a nice, understanding, smiley scientist, not an angry one like Richard Dawkins.
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To a waterfall, then, because Brian looks lovely in front of falling water … no, because it's a good place to have a conversation about the conservation of energy. Then on to the big crater, because it's good for illustrating proton gradients, which, it turns out, are absolutely crucial to everything. He bangs on and on about these bloody proton gradients, the protons cascading down the waterfall not a real one now, confusingly, but a metaphorical onefrom the proton reservoir to the proton deficit … OK, I get it Brian.
They're really important, the source of energy for life, and probably how life began, from vents in a primordial ocean.
And that's to do with harvesting solar energy, via embedded algae, which fits into the big story … bugger, lost it again hits pause to ponder, then rewind.The British Academy Awards 2013 feat. Doctor Who, Jenna Coleman & Brian Cox
I have to do that quite a lot: Because though I think I understand what he's on about right now thermodynamics, DNA, an orang utan's three-BILLION letter genetic code, etcI've completely forgotten how the hell it all fits in to the big picture, or what the big picture is even of. To be honest you don't need to understand it all.
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You can just go along for the view if you want, while a gentle Lancashire lilt washes over you like the ripples lapping the shore of that volcanic lake. What is he talking about?
Who knows, but it's lovely. Now go on, give us one of your big numbers. The view is of Coxy himself a lot of the time. Well, he is a very well ordered island, with a very big smile, the Smile of Wonder.
And he works well in front of a whole lot of different backdrops. There is a very famous series by Bronowski — The Ascent of Man, which also does this. And David Attenborough does it to some extent — he has got more polemical over the years.
So that I hope is in there — a very strong opinion. There is no balance. How can you be balanced? Of course understanding the universe is a good idea — there is no counter argument because I don't put one. How do you feel about being dubbed the 'next David Attenborough'. There won't be another David Attenborough. He invented science documentaries and certainly natural history and he's done it for 50 years. I presented him with an award relatively recently in London and he came up after I'd given a little speech about him, about what I felt after watching his programs over the years and how inspiring he was, and he said: At the end he got up again and said: What actually I hope — and the BBC is doing it to some extent — is that there are going to be a lot of people filling his shoes.
You want more science on television and you want more scientists and naturalists presenting it. You're often labelled as a 'rock star scientist' who is 'making science sexy' by the media.
Are there any pitfalls of being in the public eye?
If you want to spend part of your career communicating with the public — or just communicating ideas — then it's considered not really the right thing to do as a serious researcher or a serious academic.
Of course, this is nonsense. Why shouldn't scientists and academics be in there with a voice as loud as [pop stars, and sports stars and actors]? You have to if you want society to grasp science properly. If you're in the public eye, you're on television you're going to be subjected to the same kind of scrutiny that an actor is subjected to. And you've got to welcome it even though it might be irritating.
It could be put on the level of Einstein's theory of relativity as an intellectual achievement and precision statement. Wonders of Life Do you still get time to research? In the autumn term at the University of Manchester I give the first year lectures in quantum theory and relativity - it's one of the first physics classes they get when they're coming from school.
To be fair, I'm doing less research than I have done over the last few years because I've been making television programs — there's only 24 hours in a day — but I'm still working on some really foundational unusual stuff on causality quantum field theory as a little sideline.
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Your latest documentary series, Wonders of Life, takes you away from cosmology and into the world of biology. Where did the idea come from? I read What is Life which is one of the foundation books of biology, but it was written by Schrodinger the famous physicist.
So the idea was 'if a physicist made a program about natural history, what would they do, what would they be interested in?
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After the end of the process I got from biology the excitement that I get from astronomy. My appreciation of Darwin just rocketed. And I really didn't know that before.