Review: Professor Brian Cox Live / by David Mather

I recently had the pleasure of attending Professor Brian Cox's UK tour. The evening was a guide to both cosmology as a field of study and the impact of cosmology on our understanding of the world. Brian's lexicon, and its timely delivery, imparts the themes and importance of complex scientific ideas onto an attentive audience. There was no deriving of equations from first principles as you would expect from a lecture, it was science for the public. The ideas were simply - explained. The style was similar to that on Professor Cox's shows on the BBC. From the evening you were not going to be able to pass an exam on astro-physics but you certainly left more informed than when you when in.

Several of the ideas explored in the evening captured my imagination. One example was the counter-intuitive outlook, explained by Einstein, that the equation of motion is such that you can imagine the earth rising to meet static objects, rather than objects falling towards a static earth. An idea which seems crazy until you eliminate air resistance and look only at the equations of motion. 

This was demonstrated with a clip from Human Universe which featured feathers and a bowling ball falling in a near vacuum. In many equations in physics the direction is mathematically arbitrary. The objects are moving towards one another but the equations do not provide the context that we associate with the action - such as an apple falling onto Newtons unsuspecting head.

Professor Cox explored this theme further with equations that are used in quantum mechanics. The behaviour described seems strange to us, and hard to describe, but once the maths is done we have real world products. Products such as lasers and transistors which result from the application of theories which appear to show illogical and impossible actions.

The greatest 'take away' from the evening for me was the scale of the universe and the scale of earth. It is easy to say "the universe is huge", but through a series of images and prose pieces Brian demonstrated both the scale of earth, the solar system and the extent of the observed universe in such a way that really hit home. The earth is tiny. The earths significance in both time and scale is incomprehensibly small from the point of view of the universe.

Brian emphasised that as humans we are custodians of the planet. We should cherish it for today and for future generations. 

Building Services Engineers, and the whole construction industry, should limit carbon emissions through energy efficient design; not to just to meet targets set by politicians, but to minimise humanities impact on the planet. As users of this planet we can all help by making energy efficient choices each day. Our impact on the environment needs to be limited to ensure we don't consume all natural resources and irreversibly change our climate through greenhouse gas emissions. The detail of the impact of climate change can be debated, but we must agree that it will not be beneficial for our this generation or the next.

As the tour has been so successful additional dates have been added around the country. The new dates have been added to this page: Professor Brian Cox Tour Dates.

Following the evening you can find out more in a new book by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. The books cover looks like an album cover, and certainly grabbed my interest.

Universal: A Guide to the Cosmos
By Brian Cox, Jeff Forshaw