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This blog was prompted by an online article I was alerted to by Roger Highfield on Twitter, which discussed how neuroscientists were conducting experiments suggesting that free will is indeed just an illusion. It was rather dismissive of the years (no, make that centuries) of philosophical debate that has seemingly not brought us any closer to an answer. Now, as a physicist I am usually at the front of the hard-nosed scientist queue when it comes to philosophy bashing. But on this issue, I am not so sure. Continue reading
So, how do I feel about the Higgs discovery? Am I excited, indifferent or even just a little disappointed? Before CERN’s announcement on the 4 July 2012, I had asked myself on many occasions whether I hoped the Higgs would be discovered or not. After all, if there were no such thing as the Higgs field, or Higgs mechanisms that supposedly gave particles their mass, and hence no Higgs Boson (the particle that is no more than a brief condensation of Higgs field energy) then we would need to revise our theories of the subatomic world… and that would be pretty exciting. Well, it seems like that won’t be necessary (for now) because experiments have confirmed what theory predicted all along. Continue reading
I have been prompted to write this blog, instead of chilling with a glass of wine after a busy week and watching a movie on TV, because of the flurry of comments via email and Twitter that I have received today regarding the latest news from the Opera neutrino experiment.
It’s entirely my own fault. After the first announcement back in September I volunteered on Twitter, then on BBC television to eat my boxer shorts on live TV if this result is proven to be right. Now, many people mistakenly believe that this second repeated experiment is the confirmation needed for me to fetch the ketchup. Continue reading
I thought about tweeting this but realised I couldn’t explain it in 140 characters and I hate multiple run-on tweets. So here it is in a blog:
In October of this year I start presenting a new science programme on BBC Radio 4. It will be on every Tuesday at 0900 – a fantastic slot just after the Today Programme. In fact, the hope is that this will become a long-running fixture on R4 with around 30 or so episodes a year, so that the Tuesday 9am slot becomes associated with it. Just think what else is on at that time throughout the week: on Monday it’s Start the Week, Wednesday it’s Midweek, Thursday is In Our Time and Friday it’s Desert Island Discs. Tuesday is the only day without a recognised fixture.
The new controller of Radio 4, Gwyneth Williams, has been absolutely key in getting this programme commissioned – well, she’s the boss, right? Anyway, what is so fantastic is that Gwyn is very keen to get more science on Radio 4 and for science to continue its rapid move into mainstream culture – for instance, The Infinite Monkey Cage, presented by Robin Ince and Brian Cox, recently won a Sony Award.
So, what will the programme be about and why do I need your help?
The first thing to say is that this will not be like In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg, nor will it be like Material World, the excellent science magazine programme presented by Quentin Cooper. We have already recorded two pilots for the new series, differing in format, so that the powers that be in the BBC can decide on the style, format and flavour of the programme. At the moment, a very rough way of explaining what it is about is that it is like Desert Island Discs, without the discs. Each week, I will be talking to a different prominent figure from the world of science (by which I mean ‘science’ in its broadest sense: natural science, maths, engineering, technology, medicine and social science). There wil be Nobel Prize winners, shakers and movers, advisers to governments, writers or just fascinating people who have made a contribution to our understanding of the Universe. So, whereas Kirsty Young might ask her guests on DID something like ‘tell me why you never got on with your father’, I might ask ‘tell me where you were when you first had that Eureka moment that led to your scientific breakthrough’, or some such thing.
So, here’s the thing: we still don’t have a title for the programme!
We have come up with ideas like ‘Latitude‘, ‘The Life Scientific’, ‘This Scientific Life‘, ‘Science Talk‘. I even suggested ‘Curious Minds‘ but it was pointed out to me that that is the strapline for the whole of Radio 4: “Radio for Curious Minds”. Although it would be kinda nice to have the programme title reflect so perfectly the ethos of the network.
So, ideas please: either below in comments or tweet them to me (@jimalkhalili) with the hashtag #radio4sciencetitle
I thank you.
P.S. Apparently I am not allowed to offer a prize if a title is used but I will certainly publicise who came up with it if you are happy for me to do so.
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. Continue reading
So, I’m sitting on a train back from Waterloo to Portsmouth on a Saturday morning having just been interviewed on Radio 4′s travelogue programme, Excess Baggage. I really should now be reading that PhD thesis in my bag that I am still only a quarter of the way through. I mean it’s not as though it isn’t on a riveting topic in theoretical physics (“Antisymmetrisation of few-body models for light nuclei”) – and if the author sees this blog before the Tuesday viva, rest assured I will have read and digested it before then and promise to ask only ‘nice’ questions during your examination.
Anyway, I will get back to reading the thesis shortly, but this may well be a slightly longer journey than usual due to the snow, so enough time to finish this blog. After all, I have not updated my website since October and feel a little guilty knowing how many millions of people around the planet hang on my every word. You see, that’s the problem; in my blogs I feel I should only be writing about deep and profound subjects from my corner of science, rather than the self-indulgent, self-promoting ‘wot I’ve got up to recently’ stream of consciousness that is the preserve of ‘proper’ celebrities as well as the delusional egos for whom Facbook Status Updates are just not enough. Continue reading
It is one thing to introduce the world’s most famous scientist to a live audience; it’s even more exciting to do so at a venue like the Royal Albert Hall. Well, that’s exactly what I got to do last Wednesday evening. There is of course no doubting the pulling power and star appeal of Stephen Hawking, and I knew that the 5,500 sell-out crowd could have been three times as big had an even larger venue, the O2 Arena, been chosen instead – as it nearly was. Still I was pleased it was at the fabulous Albert Hall.
I must confess I have been feeling a little guilty recently as the day of the Government’s Annual Spending Review and impending cuts looms ever closer. We all know there will be the inevitable job loses, tightening of belts and financial hardships across the whole of society. Universities in particular, for that is the sector I work in, face an uncertain future with huge cuts to teaching and research budgets and proposed hikes to student fees to supposedly counteract them.
Yet at the same time, my own career is going rather well thank you very much. I am writing this blog while travelling down from Leeds to London Kings Cross, returning from the Ilkley literature Festival where I gave a talk on my new book, Pathfinders. I had a sell-out audience of about a hundred and fifty people, in a charming venue called The Playhouse, who were on the whole very appreciative (I did have to crank up the charisma dial to its syrupy max to placate a young Muslim woman over my comments that the veil and hijab were in my view relatively recent cultural rather than religious requirements in the Muslim world). Continue reading