- Education and Science
Brian Cox Physicist and the Wonders of the Universe
Brian Cox and CER (LHC) Collider
by Mirna Santana
Brian Cox is a particle physicist with a gift to communicate science to the public in a way that has been compared to Carl Sagan. He syntheses complex knowledge into digestible bites. He seems to have a bag full of metaphors that allows him to convey particle physics as well as the current theories of the universe to lay audiences with an ease that is so simple it seems magic. His explanations are not only backed up by the hard core science but by a great sense of humor that helps him connect to the public.
As Carl Sagan, Brian Cox pours out his love for science to inspire others with his words.
When he talks about particles he may look like a child with a new set of LEGO. Here are the pieces, he says, showing an arrange of particle distinguished by their types and represented by cubes of three colors. With these 12 kind of particles, he said all things are made of. Among these particles, the Leptons, the Quartz and the Forecarriers. With these and only a handful of nature forces (4), the whole picture of the Universe could be completed. Sigh, “if only we understand why these particles arrange in certain patterns or why nature is built that way? “ he remarks.
Physics has advanced and its theories and principles now provide approximations to relevant questions about the origin of the universe. Yet, important pieces have been predicted although there is not much data available to back some of those predictions. That is the case of the Higgs particles that confer mass to the fundamental particles, but had not yet been discovered. Colliders were built to try to discover these particles and gain more knowledge on other issues such as dark matter and the forces of nature. Ultimately, physicists seek to explain ‘the creation of the universe at the large level and how things work at a more essential level. These scientist are seeking to complete the history of the Universe as it continues to evolve. Somehow, they are looking for the missing links of the past and the principles of life.
Why do we need colliders? Large machines designed to give physicists and thus us humans, a glimpse of what may have happened a little bit after the big bang. Why do we need to recreate these conditions at the beginning of the Universe? Why would we need to know about the young denser and hotter universe if we now live in a much older expanding universe that provides the conditions in which the human race can survive and even thrive? Answering these questions seems to be a major motivation of Prof. Cox’s life.
These questions are not the domain of a single physicist. The search of particle physicists such as Prof. Brian Cox is a large global scientific enterprise. This glimpse into the beginning of the universe and the particles of which everything is made of is relevant to every human being. In the same way, scientists such as prof. Cox, wonder about what cause ‘things’ to remain together? These questions are a broad task that requires large scale collaborations. In this case, the peaceful cooperation of 85 countries. Brian Cox made it clear, he is only one of the 10,000 participants in this big project at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland--but he is perhaps his louder voice. To learn more about this project I recommend Prof. Cox’s presentation at the TED conferences http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6uKZWnJLCM
Brian Cox says, particle physics allows to explain nature. It explains the beauty of all things and how they began. Anything from stars, planets and galaxies to the things that can think ‘us’.
With the ease of an ecotourist guide in the jungle, he moves from the small ‘invisible’ things to walk the audience, into the jungle and the wonders of the large structures of the Universe. In this perhaps, he resembles Carl Sagan...Like Sagan, he awaken people’s sense of wonder. While doing so “he makes you smile” (quote from the comments on his videos). Others said he is not only incredible smart but also handsome, enthusiastic, energetic, and a musician like the late physicist and Nobel Prize Richard Feyman. This physicist though is very much alive and we could be glad for that.
He excels explaining what is invisible to us such as the particles and the fundamentals of physics as well as explaining the big things such as the galaxies and black holes, and the underlying in the world of experimental physics. Many of these things normally lie beyond our grasp.
Besides being an experimental physicist on the top leagues, he is a very good communicator and pretty funny. He participates in a BBC radio program and in science television programs, all of which have contributed to make people think he is the ‘new’ Carl Sagan. In a recent talk Prof. Cox wrapped up, bridging the gap between the big picture of the universe and the smaller picture--the implications of being a human and a member of planing earth-- by closing with Sagan’s words. In that moment of time and space, Brian Cox also brought together Sagan, himself and the audience by unifying us through a common link the pale blue dot, planet earth, our home.
“On that blue dot, is [where] everyone you love, every one you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives...” -Carl Sagan, Cosmos.
The author Mirna Santana is a biologist.
© 2011 MSantana