BHA Voltaire Lecture with Prof. Brian Cox

I was at the BHA’s Voltaire lecture this evening. It’s an annual talk, and this year it was given by Brian Cox – who was /excellent/.

Prof. Cox has catapulted to the forefront of UK science in the last year, particularly after his recent – brilliant – BBC1 show ‘Wonders of the Solar System’, and the lecture sold out weeks in advance. His subject was the nourishment science provides to both the imagination and the economy.

The former was a great primer on the current frontiers of physics and the work of the LHC, as well as an ode to exploration. It covered everything from the Standard Model and the search for the Higgs Boson, to the astonishing images being sent back by space probes – he had a couple of very new, as-yet-unprocessed shots from Cassini, showing ice geysers on Enceladus (it was awesome). Prof. Cox has a gift for explanation – think Lawrence Krauss, or Dawkins on biology – and he didn’t shirk from the more complex areas. For example, he showed how (hopefully I’ll get this right) the fundamental mathematics of the fundamental forces beautifully falls out of field invariance equations. I love theoretical physics, and while many of the concepts were familiar (although not always so clear in my head), this last info was all new.

So was the economic side of the talk. I was photographing the lecture so couldn’t catch everything, but, roughly: science research & development gets only a few billion of the UK’s budget (which is a low percentage compared with most first-world countries) yet makes up 40% of the GVA economic output (more than finance). This needs fixing. It’s hard to disagree.

It was engaging and fascinating – I want to see it again to pick up all the bits I missed. Beforehand I managed to photograph the Prof for a uni project, which I’m very pleased about. I haven’t been starstruck at a BHA gig for a while (Dawkins) but I was tonight – hopefully I didn’t say anything too weird. He was very friendly, gracious and down-to-earth, and certainly knew his cameras. After the lecture he spent an hour signing books and posing for photos, too. I’m glad he’s becoming a household name – he’s a great advert for science all round.

(written on WordPress for iPhone – please forgive any formatting weirdness.)