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  • richardmitnick 7:20 am on July 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Brian Cox,   

    From COSMOS: “The more we know, the more we don’t – physics’ unsolved problems” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc


    Brian Cox’s day job is to winkle out the secrets of subatomic particles. But that has given him insights into the very large as well. He talks to Andrew Masterson.

    Credit: Supplied

    Brian Cox is possibly the only particle physicist on Earth who is the subject of a book that claims to be an “unauthorised biography”.

    Contrary to expectations, though, the book, published in 2015 and written by Ben Falk, is not about Cox’s early career as a pop star in the 1990s Northern Irish dance outfit, D:REAM. Rather, according to the blurb, it concentrates on how “his affable charm and infectious enthusiasm have brought science to a whole new audience”.

    The contention is certainly true. In recent years he has written and fronted several blockbuster science television series, including The Human Universe and the forthcoming The Forces of Nature.

    For 14 seasons he has co-hosted, with Robin Ince, the popular BBC radio program The Infinite Monkey Cage. In between he’s popped up on panel shows, in the rebooted Monty Python stage production, and in specials such as The Science of Dr Who.

    In August he’ll be doing a speaking tour of Australian mainland capitals. Of course it will sell out. And of course he’ll be a special guest on every TV show that can get him. He’s a celebrity, after all.

    Given all that, it’s easy to forget that he’s also a very serious scientist. Among other things, he holds research posts at the University of Manchester, CERN and the Large Hadron Collider. When free from his recording commitments, he is part of an international team working on the installation of proton tagging detectors for use in refinements of the collider’s ATLAS and CMS experiments.

    He’s publishing, too. In June this year he was a co-author – admittedly with 5,112 others – of at least one paper lodged on preprint site arXiv. The paper is titled Measurements of the Higgs boson production and decay rates and constraints on its couplings from a combined ATLAS and CMS analysis of the LHC pp collision data at s√= 7 and 8 TeV – which, just by itself, slates home that the good professor, despite what the music mags used to say, is far from just a pretty face.

    While his day job concerns playing close attention to subatomic particles, it doesn’t at all preclude his thoughts turning to matters macro.

    The possibility of life beyond earth is one such area. In The Human Universe he led the somewhat depressing argument that, while life per se might be abundant in the cosmos, humanity could well be the only intelligent, civilisation-building example of it in this galaxy. This is in part, he said, because the development of eukaryotic cells was so vanishingly unlikely, the chances of it happening twice in planets orbiting our 300 billion local area stars is exceedingly remote.

    Of course, there is much unknown – indeed, unknowable – beneath such a statement, because all species on Earth stem ultimately from a single common ancestor. In terms of types of life, this presents a sample size of just one – never a reliable number from which to draw conclusions.

    Because of that, it invites the question of whether life evolving once only is always the name of the game, or whether two or more entirely separate life-systems can share a planet.

    “There’s an argument that there’s a sense of inevitability about geochemistry turning into biochemistry in the right circumstances,” says Cox.

    “The theory that I think is the most promising is the idea that in hydrothermal vents in an ocean, in those kinds of conditions where you get an energy flow – an out-of-equilibrium situation – where you get acid and alkaline together, hot and cold together, biochemistry may be inevitable in those conditions.

    “The counter argument is what some evolutionary biologists say: once you get a life, once you get a replicator, it’s then very difficult for another replicator to get a foothold because the head start you get by being the first replicator is immense.


    ‘I’d say we’re sure now that dark matter must be some kind of particle. It would be a very strange thing if it wasn’t’


    “You get access to natural selection straight away, and off you go. The advantage to being first is colossal.”

    Cox’s own opinion? “Honestly? I don’t know.”

    And that, of course, is how it should be. However much certain crusty parliamentarians and commentators may like to deride them, doubt and uncertainty are essential elements in the scientific process.

    This is so, even in areas where evidence appears to be ever bolstering theory. Take the standard model of particle physics, for instance, a model at the heart of Cox’s research.

    From the outside, recent discoveries – not least of the Higgs boson and the (albeit contested) detection of gravitational waves – seem to be yet more proof of the model’s robust structure.

    Brian Cox has his doubts.

    “The standard model, with Higgs, is really not what most people would have expected,” he says.

    “It’s not clear that it’s … well, it looks quite ‘fine-tuned’, let’s put it that way. There are more natural models, in many people’s eyes.

    “Supersymmetry is a very good example – which also gives you a candidate for dark matter. This is absolutely necessary.”

    But the drawback with supersymmetry – where every particle has another twin with higher mass – is that it would be a much better model if there were the slightest experimental evidence that it actually exists. It’s an obstacle, says Cox, but not necessarily a permanent one.

    “I’d say we’re sure now that dark matter must be some kind of particle. It would be a very strange thing if it wasn’t,” he says.

    “So, it looks like the astronomers are telling us that there must be some other kind of particle out there. And you would expect it in terms of energy – naively – to be around about where the Higgs particle is. So it’s kind of surprising that we haven’t seen any hint of anything like supersymmetry.

    “But there’s a lot data still to be taken at the LHC, and I would not be surprised at all if we didn’t see something else. Although it’s possible that we won’t, of course.”

    But if they do, it still won’t be the end of the standard model’s faults. Far from it, in fact.

    “There are huge unsolved problems in physics at the moment,” says Cox.

    “I would say that dark matter is one that should be resolved pretty soon. But dark energy is a colossal problem. There’s something very strange that we don’t understand about the way particles interact with space-time.

    “That link between general relativity and quantum theory – there’s something really terribly wrong with our understanding of that.”

    And that is significant not just in and of itself. From an anthropocentric point of view, it feeds into an even deeper issue, at least if Cox is right in suggesting intelligent life in the universe is as rare as it is.

    Bluntly, if we don’t sort out the friction between the two paradigms, nothing else in the Milky Way will do so, either. Possibly ever.

    “The most interesting questions, I think, are questions that appear to have mutually exclusive answers,” says Cox.

    “So when you start asking questions, such as how valuable is the human race, I take two views that appear to be opposed.

    “One is that physically we’re obviously insignificant. But I think we’re incredibly valuable. The reason for that is that I think in the local universe there are very few civilisations around, so we’re not likely to meet any others.

    “You could even argue that there are only a handful, possibly even one. And that’s enough for me to make us valuable.”

    Brian Cox, with Robin Ince, will be in Australia from 5-18 August. Details and tickets: https://lateralevents.com/public-events/brian-cox-journey-into-deep-space/

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 3:59 pm on February 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    Amazing CERN Photo Essay From NBC News: “World’s Biggest Particle Smasher Gears Up for Next Run” 


    CERN New Masthead

    After the discovery of the Higgs boson, or “God Particle,” in 2012, Europe’s giant particle accelerator at CERN has been getting an overhaul.

    1. Scientists at the CERN particle physics center at the French-Swiss borders are preparing to restart the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s most powerful particle-smasher. Photographer Luca Locatelli was given access to maintenance work in November, providing a unique view into this vast underground laboratory. Engineers work on equipment for the LHC in the main workshop at CERN shown here.

    2. A model of the Large Hadron Collider is displayed inside the LHC Magnet facility building, where components for the particle accelerator are built. The LHC was first started up in 2008 and is resuming high-energy collisions in March.

    3. The LHC’s 17-mile-round underground tunnel directs particles through ATLAS, one of the facility’s two general-purpose detectors. ATLAS and the other detector, the Compact Muon Solenoid [CMS], probe a wide range of scientific mysteries, from the successful search for the Higgs boson to the hunt for extra dimensions and particles that could make up dark matter.

    4. A scientist works inside one of the underground rooms of the Compact Muon Solenoid, another of LHC’s general-purpose detectors. The CMS experiment is one of the largest international scientific collaborations in history, involving 4,300 particle physicists, engineers, technicians, students and support staff from 182 institutes in 42 countries.

    5. Maintenance work continues inside the CMS. The CMS detector is built around a huge solenoid magnet. This takes the form of a cylindrical coil of superconducting cable that generates a field of 4 tesla, about 100,000 times the strength of Earth’s magnetic field.

    6. A unusual feature of the CMS detector is that instead of being built in place like the LHC’s other detectors, it was constructed in 15 sections at ground level before being lowered into an underground cavern and assembled. The complete detector is 70 feet long, 50 feet wide and 50 feet high (21 by 15 by 15 meters).

    7. The last bit of maintenance work is perfomed inside the ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) before it resumes operation in 2015. ALICE is a heavy-ion detector that’s designed to study the physics of strongly interacting matter at extreme energy densities.

    8. The ALICE detector sits in a vast cavern almost 200 feet (56 meters) below ground, close to the village of St Genis-Pouilly in France. When ALICE is in operation, the engineers in charge of the LHC switch from using beams of protons to beams of lead ions.

    9. The ALICE collaboration uses a 10,000-ton detector – 85 feet long, 50 feet high and 50 feet wide (26 by 16 by 16 meters) – to study quark-gluon plasma, the “Big Bang soup” that existed when the universe was a trillionth of a second old.

    10. In addition to the experiments at the LHC, scientists at the CERN particle physics center conduct huge numbers of smaller experiments. A bird’s-eye view shows one of the experiments in progress.

    11. The Antiproton Decelerator provides low-energy antiprotons, mainly for studies of antimatter. Previously, “antiparticle factories” at CERN and elsewhere consisted of chains of accelerators, each performing one of the steps needed to provide antiparticles for experiments. Now the Antiproton Decelerator performs all the necessary steps, from making the antiprotons to delivering them to experiments. At CERN, scientists have used the antiprotons to create atoms of antihydrogen for a fraction of a second.

    12.The 7,000-ton ATLAS detector is the largest particle detector ever constructed in terms of volume. ATLAS and the Compact Muon Solenoid, or CMS, were instrumental in the successful search for the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider.

    And, for good measure, the 2008 video The Big Bang Machine from BBC. This video is from before the LHC started up. But, in my view, it is the best teaching video on both the LHC and
    particle physics involved in its experiments. This video features Sir Dr. Brian Cox, University of Manchester. Brian worked or works on the ATLAS project. He spent some time at FNAL’s Tevatron and does not leave it out as has been done by others. There are more recent videos. They simply do not do as well in communicating this story.

    Watch, enjoy, learn.

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  • richardmitnick 6:50 am on September 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From BBC: “Brian Cox: ‘Multiverse’ makes sense” 


    23 September 2014

    The presenter and physicist Brian Cox says he supports the idea that many universes can exist at the same time.

    Brian Cox Serious

    The idea may sound far-fetched but the “many worlds” concept is the subject of serious debate among physicists.

    It is a particular interpretation of quantum mechanics – which describes the often counter-intuitive behaviour of energy and matter at small scales.

    Prof Cox made the comments during an interview with Radio 4’s The Life Scientific programme.

    In a famous thought experiment devised by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger, a cat sealed inside a box can be both alive and dead at the same time. Or any combination of different probabilities of being both dead and alive.

    This is at odds with most common perceptions of the way the world is. And Schrodinger’s experiment was designed to illustrate the problems presented by one version of quantum mechanics known as the Copenhagen interpretation.

    This proposes that when we observe a system, we force it to make a choice. So, for example, when you open the box with Schrodinger’s cat inside, it emerges dead or alive, not both.

    But Prof Cox says the many worlds idea offers a sensible alternative.

    “That there’s an infinite number of universes sounds more complicated than there being one,” Prof Cox told the programme.

    “But actually, it’s a simpler version of quantum mechanics. It’s quantum mechanics without wave function collapse… the idea that by observing something you force a system to make a choice.”

    Accepting the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics means also having to accept that things can exist in several states a the same time.

    But this leads to a another question: Why do we perceive only one world, not many?


    A single digital photograph can be made from many different images superimposed on one another. Perhaps the single reality that we perceive is also multi-layered.

    The laws of quantum mechanics describe what happens inside the nucleus of every atom, right down at the level of elementary particles such as quarks, neutrinos, gluons, muons.

    A proton, composed of two up quarks and one down quark. (The color assignment of individual quarks is not important, only that all three colors be present.)

    The first use of a hydrogen bubble chamber to detect neutrinos, on November 13, 1970. A neutrino hit a proton in a hydrogen atom. The collision occurred at the point where three tracks emanate on the right of the photograph.

    In Feynman diagrams, emitted gluons are represented as helices. This diagram depicts the annihilation of an electron and positron.

    The weird and wonderful world of quantum mechanics reveals that nature is at heart probabilistic. Nothing can be predicted with any certainty.

    “Everybody agrees about that” says Prof Cox. But where physicists don’t agree is about how these facts should be interpreted.

    For decades, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, which allows for only one universe, dominated particle physics.

    But Brian Cox supports the many worlds interpretation and, he believes, more and more physicists are now subscribing to this view.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 11:28 am on August 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Brian Cox on the LHC 

    Published on Dec 8, 2012

    A great video, a bit dated, by our freind Brian Cox

    “Rock-star physicist” Brian Cox talks about his work on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Discussing the biggest of big science in an engaging and accessible way, Cox brings us along on a tour of the massive project.

    Watch, enjoy and learn.

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  • richardmitnick 5:51 pm on March 10, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    Brian Cox, BBC Wonders of Life 

    It is no secret in these pages that I believe that Brian Cox, Sir Brian Cox, physicist, teacher, TV darling, is the best thing to happen for Basic Science Research ever.

    Brian was the host of The Big Bang Machine about the LHC at CERN, which was featured here.

    Brian also did the BBC produced Wonders of the Solar System, Wonders of the Universe and so far two series of Stargazing.

    Now comes also from the BBC Wonders of Life, Brian’s latest bit of programming. The program is truly a wonder in itself. Pretty much all of the above you can find on YouTube with some searching.

    Here is the first video in Wonders of Life to get you started.

  • richardmitnick 12:52 pm on January 25, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    Brian Cox on Basic Science: “Brian Cox Lecture – GCSE Science brought down to Earth” 

    The great emissary of Science, Dr. Professor Brian Cox, OBE, delivers a fascinating lecture at University of Manchester.

    Brian Cox Head shot

    “Professor Brian Edward Cox, OBE (born 3 March 1968)is a British particle physicist, a Royal Society University Research Fellow, PPARC Advanced Fellow and Professor at the University of Manchester.He is a member of the High Energy Physics group at the University of Manchester, and works on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland. He is working on the R&D project of the FP420 experiment in an international collaboration to upgrade the ATLAS and the CMS experiment by installing additional, smaller detectors at a distance of 420 metres from the interaction points of the main experiments.” (Wikipedia)

    If you are interested in basic science, this video is 1:15 of pure ecstasy delivered by a master.

  • richardmitnick 4:13 pm on January 15, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Brian Cox, , Stargazing Live   

    Brian Cox Goes Stargazing 

    A friend knew of my affection for Dr. Brian Cox, a.k.a. Sir Brian Cox, OBE.


    So my friend let me know about a BBC2 series of videos called Stargazing Live.

    There are currently two series of three episodes each. All are available at YouTube.
    I did a preview of this post and saw that the videos are all bunched up, sorry about that, I tried for a wee bit of separation between them, but it did not happen. I did test the videos and they do work.

    If you go to YouTube to find them for yourself, I can tell you that for the Opera broswer and Firefox there are good video downloaders available and that you can get at least 720p on the first series and even 1080p on the second.

    Now, this is first and foremost TV. The project is based at Jodrell Bank Observatory.

    The 76 m Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory managed by the University of Manchester

    The videos are aimed at a popular audience, not scientists. Brian’s partner is the Irish stand-up comedian Dara Ó Briain, who does quite well with the subject matter.

    Dara Ó Briain

    There are long distance connections to observatories in South Africa and Hawai’i . There is a link up with the International Space Station. And, finally, there are some very special guests, one of whom actually walked on the moon.

    I hope that you enjoy these videos as much as I do.

    So, without further ado:

    Series 1

    Series 2

  • richardmitnick 4:48 pm on February 7, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    The Big Bang Machine – Brian Cox 2008 

    If you are interested in the work of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and, if you have not seen this video, consider it my treat. This is the BBC version, all 58 minutes. Not the version shown on the Science Channel in the U.S.A., which lost 13 minutes of footage to commercials.

    This video was produced prior to the start-up of the LHC.

    I hope that you learn from and enjoy the video.

  • richardmitnick 4:41 pm on April 2, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Brian Cox, Nico Muhly   

    Combining My Interests: Nico Muhly Should Write Music for Brian Cox’s next “Wonders…” series 

    I maintain two blogs, one on Music, one on Science. This post will appear in each blog.

    Short and sweet.

    Combining my two interests: Nico Muhly

    Nico Muhly

    should write music for Brian Cox’s next “Wonders…” project

    Brian Cox

    So, here it goes.

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