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January 14, 2012 3:20 PM   Subscribe

Professor Brian Cox (previously 1 2) goes unplugged in a specially recorded programme from the lecture theatre of the Royal Institution of Great Britain. In his own inimitable style, Brian takes an audience of famous faces, scientists and members of the public on a journey through some of the most challenging concepts in physics.

With the help of Jim Al-Khalili, Jonathan Ross, Simon Pegg, Sarah Millican and James May, Brian shows how diamonds - the hardest material in nature - are made up of nothingness; how things can be in an infinite number of places at once; why everything we see or touch in the universe exists; and how a diamond in the heart of London is in communication with the largest diamond in the cosmos
posted by lazaruslong (40 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite

 
I watched this just yesterday, and it's fantastic. I know it's a cliché at this point, but Brian Cox is setting himself up as a worthy successor to Carl Sagan.
posted by anaximander at 3:28 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Carl Sagan was a great mind. I don't get that from Cox - he's more of a shallow media whore. I may be biased as I find his voice and face unbearably smarmy, but I look forward to being proved wrong as and when he writes great books about philosophy and the relationship between science and religion.
posted by iotic at 3:52 PM on January 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Brian Cox:Carl Sagan::Davy Jones:Paul McCartney
posted by symbioid at 4:28 PM on January 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Brian Cox is on television with popular television and movie stars explaining and demonstrating scientific concepts to a global audience. He's popularizing science and curiosity, it doesn't matter if he's the next Sagan.

Any good thinker knows that he or she is standing on the shoulders of giants. Some modern scientists are giants themselves, some are not. Everyone is lucky that the internet is here to tell us which is which.
posted by Science! at 4:43 PM on January 14, 2012 [11 favorites]


Is he writing these or just presenting?
posted by empath at 4:50 PM on January 14, 2012


Is he writing these or just presenting?


the credits at the end say he wrote and presented it - but who knows
posted by facetious at 4:59 PM on January 14, 2012


Why wouldn't he have written it? I'm pretty sure a physics professor is capable of writing a physics lecture now and then.
posted by dng at 5:03 PM on January 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


Also, the Royal Institution has a lot of their annual Christmas lectures (which are aimed primarily at school children but are almost always incredibly enjoyable) available to watch on their site.

This year's set were all about the human brain. I think I preferred these to Brian Cox's lecture.
posted by dng at 5:16 PM on January 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I recommend The Infinite Monkey Cage - BBC Radio 4 science/comedy panel show, with Brian Cox and assorted scientists/comedians. My favourite running joke is how Brian Cox thinks physics is the only "real science" - chemistry is just "coloured liquids and funny smells", and biology is "one of the arts, like juggling or acrobatics". The show is informative and pretty funny.

posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:38 PM on January 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


I want to see Brian Cox do a presentation with the help of Brian Cox. Someone make this happen.
posted by mstokes650 at 6:26 PM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


My favourite running joke is how Brian Cox thinks physics is the only "real science"

And the now-recurring jabs at philosophy.
posted by dumbland at 6:32 PM on January 14, 2012


And the now-recurring jabs at philosophy.

Nah, It's Saturday night. All the hard science majors are home alone and all the Philosophy majors are out at bars and parties making friends and scoring.
posted by sourwookie at 7:33 PM on January 14, 2012


I don't think he's explaining the Pauli exclusion principle right. It can't be the same 'quantum state', which includes the energy level, but it also includes position and momentum. So him warming up the diamond only impacts the electrons in the diamond. It don't think it's the case that no two electrons can have the same energy level.
posted by empath at 7:38 PM on January 14, 2012


No two electrons can have the same energy level and the same spin.
posted by symbioid at 9:01 PM on January 14, 2012


There are a lot of electrons, and not nearly as many possible energy levels, no? Doesn't localization matter?
posted by empath at 9:08 PM on January 14, 2012


Or is this a 'when they are measured', thing. As in, if you measure an electron here, and I measure an electron on mars, we have to get different energy levels and spins, but in the meantime, they're all in an entangled superposition. In which case, yeah, that's still mindblowing, but I think maybe not as mindblowing as the way he was describing it.
posted by empath at 9:11 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think we'll have to disagree on the level of mind-blowing.

he's more of a shallow media whore

Goddamn that's harsh. I've seen and listened to a number of lectures of his. I see none of what you're describing and welcome all attempts to popularize the wonder of physics and science in general. He not only does an excellent job lecturing, but he clearly credits the giants before him.

Smile and wonder. This is what we should all strive for in life.
posted by purephase at 11:01 PM on January 14, 2012 [14 favorites]


Surprised by all the hate. The man is a rockstar physicist. No really, first he was a rockstar, now he's a physicist. How cool is that?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:19 PM on January 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


he's more of a shallow media whore

If that's what a media whore looks like, lets have lots more just like him. We have far too few media whore's for science.

I look forward to being proved wrong as and when he writes great books about philosophy and the relationship between science and religion.

Wow, how many notable scientists past or present write a single book about philosophy and the relationship between science and religion. Perhaps your definition of non-whoreish success is.... shallow?
posted by garglebreath at 11:30 PM on January 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Personally I think he is even more impressive in a question and answer context - such as here in Carpool.
posted by rongorongo at 11:44 PM on January 14, 2012


Wow, how many notable scientists past or present write a single book about philosophy and the relationship between science and religion.

Well, there's Carl Sagan ...
posted by iotic at 12:11 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't mind Cox, but as far as I'm concerned, Jim Al-Khalili is the absolute best thing that's going on right now in televised popular science.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:58 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I watched this on telly the other day I found it more smug and smarmy than mindblowing to be honest. Having celebrities there made it too much of a luvviefest. A misfire.

Also, I've not quite forgiven Cox for seeing John Prescott dad dancing back in 1997.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:39 AM on January 15, 2012


Is this the right place to say that I often fantasize about a 3-way with Brian Cox and Neil Degrasse Tyson? Because I do. Really often.
posted by treepour at 4:04 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


probably not.

Cox is smarmy and in his bbc programme went off to far-flung beaches just so he could run sand through his fingers to illustrate a simple metaphor, and so on - thanks licence payers. And Tyson downgraded pluto. So that leaves the excellent Jim Al Khalili who is by far the best at presenting this sort of stuff.

Although Ben Miller did a really interesting "what is 1 degree" programme, and I would like to see him do more.
posted by marienbad at 4:25 AM on January 15, 2012


"Anyone Who Thinks the LHC Will Destroy the World is a Twat "

That was the point at which I decided Brian Cox is a very good thing indeed.
posted by Decani at 5:06 AM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't mind Cox

YEAH THAT'S WHAT I HEARD LOLOLOL

For the longest time I kept confusing this Brian Cox with the actor, whose 1987 Titus Andronicus I would have loved to see, and wondered if he was teaching thermodynamics and food chemistry by demonstrating baking Chiron and Demetrius into pies on TV.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:14 AM on January 15, 2012


Surprised by all the hate. The man is a rockstar physicist. No really, first he was a rockstar, now he's a physicist. How cool is that?

He's Buckaroo Banzai!
posted by sourwookie at 6:22 AM on January 15, 2012


Everytime I see Brian Cox I wonder how many other genius children Roger Waters has running around England.

Also, the audience seemed bored with it. I expected more. I agree the "connectedness" about warming the diamond was the same woo he decried. Shameful.
posted by sydnius at 7:17 AM on January 15, 2012


Carl Sagan was a great mind. I don't get that from Cox

The cult of personality remains as one of the deepest flaws within the scientific community.
posted by underflow at 7:33 AM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


For the longest time I kept confusing this Brian Cox with the actor,

The actor Brian Cox turned up Question Time a bit ago, and he did a good job, but I pretty sure they meant to have the other Cox being that he was (and is) flavour of the month, and some researcher cocked it up.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:36 AM on January 15, 2012


Cox is smarmy and in his bbc programme went off to far-flung beaches just so he could run sand through his fingers to illustrate a simple metaphor, and so on - thanks licence payers.

Yes, I'm sure that was all his idea. There was no production company involved at all. Nobody at the BBC had any control over the contents and expenditure of the show.
posted by Pendragon at 8:40 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't even...what?

Who cares if Brian Cox is somehow the next Carl Sagan or whatever.

He is speaking about science in a visible and engaging manner. That's enough for me, I don't care if he's the next Science Prophet for a small crowd that requires one.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:11 AM on January 15, 2012 [5 favorites]




I was unsold about Brian Cox until I got to the end of the video. He manages to accurately explain Heisenberg's Uncertainly principle in such a way as to bitch out wishy washy woo-happy hippies that think it means physicists no nothing meaningful in a way accessible even to them.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:48 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


If there are any Actual Physicists reading this thread, can you explain to me what's meant by 'energy' for the purposes of the Pauli Exclusion Principle? I had assumed it was talking about quantized energy levels, (which seems like there are very few possible ones compared to the number of electrons in the universe), but reading the example with the two potential wells, it seems that they're talking about a different kind of energy that isn't quantized.

Can someone explain this to me, because it's killing me.
posted by empath at 3:55 PM on January 15, 2012


Regarding pauli confusion, this thread explains more.
posted by greytape at 2:31 PM on January 18, 2012


I'm more confused than ever, (even after Brian Cox himself drops in to explain) honestly, but I'm glad, at least, that I wasn't asking a stupid question.

So, here is how I think I understand his justification for what he said:

You can't really think of electrons as separate things, as they're all just perturbations of an electromagnetic field that spans the whole universe. And while each one is going to be mostly localized in the potential well of a single atom for the most part, the potential well that prevents them from escaping can't be infinite, so the wave function has a non-0 value everywhere, which means there is a very small, but non-0 chance that any electron is anywhere in the universe at any time, and that, indeed, they can instantaneously change places (even if they're on opposite sides of the universe).

So as the wave function inside the atom evolves, by necessity, that impacts it's wave function all over the universe, so every electron in any atom anywhere shifts constantly and imperceptibly due to the actions of every other electron in the universe. Which is to say, that his rubbing the diamond has essentially no effect that would be distinguishable from, say, not rubbing the diamond.

Which is to say that while mathematically, in some sense what he was saying was true, it was pointless at best and misleading at worst.

Which isn't even getting into the fact that there's no such thing as a specific energy as a single point in time, so talking about 'instantaneous' transmission doesn't make very much sense, either.
posted by empath at 3:18 PM on January 18, 2012


So like, in the example he gives of two electrons in an energy well, he gives measurements where they agree to 50 significant digits (though he doesn't define the units). That would require a very long measurement of a completely stable system with no other outside influence because of the time/energy uncertainty -- i guess if he's using natural units, that would be about 10 to 100 days or so? 10^50 planck time? Maybe much, much longer for a more complicated system.
posted by empath at 5:13 PM on January 18, 2012


I'm not educated enough on those questions to attempt an answer, empath, but I too am curious and would love it if someone dropped in! Paging physicsmatt?
posted by lazaruslong at 3:30 PM on January 19, 2012


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