So, 2011 is already shaping up to be another busy and exciting year for yours truly. As I write, I am currently coming to the end of filming on Everything and Nothing, a beautiful 2 x 1 hour documentary about some of the deepest ideas in science. It can be encompassed by the following quote by Blaise Pascal : Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.
The image above is a publicity still from the programme symbolising the opposite nature of matter and antimatter that can be created out of the vacuum. In the first part of the series, The Story of Everything, I cover cosmology the infinite universe, the big bang (Olbers’ paradox is a central theme) then, in the second programme – yes, you guessed it: The Story of Nothing – I talk about the meaning of the void, and whether we can ever truly have completely empty space. So I discuss the history of work on the vacuum, the aether, quantum fluctuations and antimatter. It’s an opportunity to get stuck in to the Dirac equation again, and look out for the section about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. The programme is being made by Furnace TV with Nic Stacey, one of the most talented young producer/directors in Britain today. I made The Secret Life of Chaos with him, and E&N is even better. I hope this is his big break. It should be transmitted on BBC4 sometime around Easter. Oh, and there is a good chance the order of transmission will be reversed, so The Story of Nothing may come first. The photo below is from our last shoot, taken on a rooftop in Piccadilly (just behind the giant Coca Cola sign). From left to right: Nic Stacey (director), me, James Sandy (sound) and Andy Jackson (cameraman extraordinaire).
But before Everything and Nothing is even ‘in the can’ I begin filming on a new 3 x 1 hour series about electricity. It is being made by the BBC’s in-house science unit. It is exciting for me because I am reunited with director and good friend, Tim Usborne, with whom I worked on Atom, Science and Islam and Genius of Britain. I am also looking forward with working with two other young directors, Jon Eastman and Alex Freeman – each of the three will make one episode. It’s going to take up a big chunk of my time and will keep me very busy until end of May. It will hopefully be aired later in the year.
I am also excited to be involved again on Channel 4’s sequel to Genius of Britain – working title: Wonders of the Modern World (hmm, familiar sounding working title). I hope to be co-presenting with a number of big names: Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, David Attenborough, James Dyson, Joy Reidenberg, Maggie Alderin Pocock, Michio Kaku, Robert Winston, Kathy Sykes, Kevin Fong, and Mark Evans. Not a bad line-up, eh?
On radio, I am making a series for the BBC World Service on Nuclear Power with Jo Wheeler, which I am really looking forward to. But the really big news for me in 2011 is that I will become the regular presenter of a brand new weekly half hour Radio 4 programme to be called “Latitude”. Think of it as a bit like Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time, but rather than being about the history ideas, mine will focus on the current ideas in science and the scientists who come up with them. The exact format has yet to be finalised but the plan is for it to start in October (on Tuesday mornings between 0900 and 0930) and to run for at least 30 weeks each year.
On the writing front, I don’t want to say too much just yet but suffice it to say I will be embarking on a new popular science book this year. Oh, and my Pathfinders book comes out in the US at the end of March, as well as in about a dozen other countries in the coming months. The paperback will come out possibly later this year in the UK, but no final decision has been made about exact dates.
With all this to fit in, I am inevitably cutting down on my public lecture commitments and am having to turn down many invitations that I would ordinarily love to have accepted. On the research front, there is plenty going on. We await the decision from STFC on my nuclear physics group’s rolling grant; my student, Spencer, is making impressive progress on his quantum biology project modelling genetic mutations through proton tunnelling and exploring the implications of the quantum Zeno effect; and our joint Surrey/UCL work on quantum computing has been chosen for this summer’s exhibition at the Royal Society (title: Schrodinger’s Cat in a Silicon Chip).