Playing with Planets

Somewhere in all the craziness (that has partly been responsible for the light posting of late), yesterday I had time to rush over to a lab to do some demonstrations for a new TV show that is upcoming. It went rather well, since some time was found to prepare all the logistics for it, and one of our lab demo experts, Angella, did a great job of sourcing the things needed and testing it out beforehand. My job (after helping with the logistics of getting the operation off the ground and connecting some of the dots to make the shoot happen) was to show up and talk about the science and do the demonstrations.

It was about conditions on some of our popular neighbouring planets, and so in addition to holding models of the dear things and talking a bit about them to camera, I engaged in some demonstrations. The demos were simple enough – showing how to boil water at room temperature by simply dropping the pressure, and showing how sulphuric acid wreaks havoc with sugar by sucking the water out of it, making an impressive black column of carbon… fun!

I was glad to be doing some science discussion for public consumption again as we did not shoot any new episodes for The Universe this Summer (as in previous years)… They are still working through the backlog of shows we shot from last year, apparently. Part of the recent craziness was dashing off to another part of town last week to shoot some segments for another show entirely (some online material for a [...] Click to continue reading this post

On Screen!

I had a pleasant surprise yesterday. I went along to the public lecture of Ralph Cicerone, the president of the National Academy of Science, since on the one hand his talk was entitled “Contemporary Climate Change as Seen Through Data”, so it was interesting to me, and on the other hand I was to be part of a group taking him to dinner later on. I went into the auditorium and lo and behold there was Rosie Wyse (Aspen Center for Physics President) up on the screen…! They were showing the film (what film? see e.g. here, here, and here) in the time leading up to the start of the lecture, as people were arriving. It was nice to see it up on a large screen being enjoyed by an audience…

Overall, the reports back are that everyone seems to love it, and that it has been [...] Click to continue reading this post

Inquiries

9:30am, my office. Phone rings. I get it on the first ring.

Hello?

Oh. Is that… Professor… Johnson?

Yes.

Oh! I was not expecting to… Well I’m watching this program, and had some questions…

I see.

Well, when you say…

Well, who am I talking to?

Oh, I’m [name].

Hi.

Hi… So, when you say millions of years, even billions of years in these programs… do you mean earth years? or, um, do you mean space years?

Oh, that’s a good question. I mean the regular years. Earth years, if you like.

Oh. So these things are really that old.

Oh, yes. They are.

I have one more question.

Of course, please go ahead.

Michio Kaku says that the universe is full of many things and all you have to do is ask for something and you’ll get it. How do you go about doing that?

Uh… Well… I’m not sure I understand what that means…

Well, you know we come from supernovae…. and… we’re from space… and there are maybe lots of gods out there that we can ask for things…Kaku says we can just ask the universe. How does one do that?

Well… I am not sure what he had in mind. It might be…. might be best to ask him…. But maybe what he meant is that the universe is a very big place, with lots of things going on, and maybe he meant that there are all sorts of things you could find out there because it is so big and diverse… But perhaps he did not have in mind that a particular person could go out and get any of those things… but you might want to ask him. I can’t say for sure.

Oh, ok.

But I can tell you what I think. I think that while the universe is a big and exciting diverse place, it is still the case that a given individual only has limited access to all those things in it. It is a big place, and so you mostly only have access to what you can get to locally. Travelling around it takes a long time…

Oh, I see. Well, thank you.

And… thank you, by the way, for watching the program. I am glad you enjoyed it.

Yes, I love these programs.

I’m glad to hear that. I hope you continue watching and do tell your friends about them too. All the best.

Goodbye.

Goodbye.

I enjoyed that chat. I love it when people are inspired to step away from their [...] Click to continue reading this post

Premiering…

Well, it is a week full of premieres, it seems, all with a little personal flavour for me, but possibly of wider interest. I’m talking about two TV shows and a movie.

The movie is going to be out in theatres at the end of the week, and it is called “Being Elmo”, co-directed by Phillip Shane and co-written by Phillip Shane and Justin Weinstein, two friends of mine who are flying into LA for the premiere. It is about Kevin Clash, the guy who operates the Elmo muppet. In short, it is a film that people seem to be really enjoying (it won the special jury prize at Sundance, and was a finalist for the Humanitas prize), and I can’t wait to see it! I worked with Phil on a two hour Einstein special that aired on the History Channel a while back (see Equation Wrangler), and so I know his working style a bit, and the results are great – so I think this’ll be really good!

The new Nova mini-series based on Brian Greene’s second book “The Fabric of the Cosmos” begins this week. They do a very good job, working closely with Brian to produce a show of rather high quality. I hope they do a good job (as you can see from the picture, they’ve got Brian to reveal his superpowers on screen – we’re not supposed to do that Brian!). It should be interesting to see, I think. I can’t recall if I mentioned, but I filmed some contributions for it last year, and some of that will be in the first episode (and I think the fourth). (You may recall that they extracted some of my interview [...] Click to continue reading this post

Multiverse Musings

As you may know already there’ll be a new NOVA series on PBS in the Fall, based on one of Brian Greene’s books, The Fabric of the Cosmos. Last Fall I did some a shoot with them for my role in it (I’ve no idea how much they will use), and I learned a short while ago that they’ll be using some of it on the NOVA website too. They extracted some parts of the on-camera interview segments I did concerning the idea of multiple universes and transcribed them into something you can read online. Have a look here. I touch on the idea in a fragmented way, mostly being led by the questions I was asked, but it’s a fun topic to chat about, and may lead you in interesting directions should you wish to learn more, so have a look.

A word on the picture they are using (er…see above left). It seems to be one that the [...] Click to continue reading this post

Tales from the Industry XXXVII – Firestarter

Well, Wednesday was unexpectedly exhausting, but quite a day. I intended to do a step by step report as I went along, but in the end we were too busy for me to do that, so instead I’ll give you a summary from memory. My instructions were to meet at 5:00am (yes, I know, 5:00am!) in the Temecula area with the film crew and a senior representative from the fire department. This meant leaving the night before and staying in a hotel nearby, so that I only had to get up at 4:30am instead of the two hours or more I’d have needed to otherwise. The meet went well (even with the slight confusion over two strip malls on opposite sides of the street both with a Starbucks, the meeting point…) and we set off in two vehicles into the brush.

Our goal was a particular area where we were going to take part in a key operation of the forestry and fire department (and related services the names of which I’ve forgotten) – a controlled or “prescribed” burn. The burn will act as a rather excellent analogue of a much larger issue of scientific interest, the main subject of the episode. I’ll let you actually watch the episode to learn more, so that I don’t spill the beans.

I say take part since we were not only going to film it (in 3D), but I would be – in my role as a sort of host of this segment – interviewing the Battalion Chief (Julie Hutchinson) about the burn, and then helping burn some of it myself! It’s certainly not every day one gets to help burn 100 acres – safely and legally!

It was a huge amount of fun, right from the morning briefing (6:00am), the borrowing of odd bits of safety equipment from various members of the crew so that our crew, and yours truly, were safely kitted out, to being instructed on camera by one of the fire chiefs how to use the drip torch (there’s one on the left) to set little pools of fire in the brush the required distance apart to get the required burn rate…

[...] Click to continue reading this post

Reaching Out…

So I’ve been involved in two or three shoots so far (I forget which) for the new series. It has been good, overall, since I’ve been pleased to help out with explanations of various physics ideas here and there where I can. I’ll be winding down on all this soon since (a) I must get back to working on other things, and (b) I will be going away from the area for a chunk of time, so there’s a bit of juggling going on, I think, to find some space and time to include some more contributions from me for various episodes. I think I’ll end up being in three of them, if I recall correctly, and have had to turn down shoots on various others for a variety of reasons. Most of the reasons are to do with scheduling, but at least one was simply because I figured I’d be the wrong (or at least, very certainly not the most right) guy for the job. There’s a move [...] Click to continue reading this post

Tales from the Industry XXXVI – 3D at the Fun Fair

Thursday’s shooting day was tiring, but fun overall. It started in the (highly unusual) June rain that we had in the first area we shot in – Griffith Park. We were at those famous (man made) caves that you may well have seen in one or other movie Western, or TV series like the classic old Batman show, where they played the role of the batcave. Don’t ask me why we were there. I think it was just a nice backdrop for the physics I was talking about to camera, between rain showers and screaming bouts from some, er, Angry Birds*. Crows, I think they were. It was cold, and I was a bit low-spirited and off my game as a result. I did not even remember to take a picture for you…

Then we headed South -and warmer- to Knott’s Berry Farm. Now, I’d vaguely heard of such a place, but I will admit that I had no idea that it was so close to Los Angeles. We were there to shoot lots of moving, interacting bodies, as a series of analogies for some other physics issues…and this is the perfect place for that, with all the various fun rides there are within easy reach. It was fun to enter the park through the service entrance, and then emerge through a secret door in the middle of the special universe they’ve created for the customers! We wandered off to find the various things we [...] Click to continue reading this post

Tales from the Industry XXXV -Tinkering with the Universe

One very good piece of good news from last month was the announcement that one of the TV series I have done a lot of work for over the last five or so years (gosh, has it been that long?) has been renewed for another season. I’m being deliberately vague here and not naming it since I do not know if it has been officially announced yet. (On the other hand, nobody has told me that it is a secret…) (You can see many of my posts on this sort of thing here.)

It’s great that the parent channel has again continued to invest in science programming, and people seem to like the show a great deal. As I’ve said here in the past, I am very encouraged by the very wide range of types of people who stop me on the street (or bus, subway, bar, cafe, plane – yes, I’ve had show-related encounters in all of these places… people who like science shows are everywhere!) to tell me they like the show, ask questions, or just say thanks for my on-screen explanations and demonstrations. It’s a diverse range of people in terms of careers, race, gender, age, and so forth, which I am very pleased to note, and I do very much hope that TV executives take note of this when making decisions about future programming for their outlets.

It is great to get the chance to contribute a little bit again, even though it takes a bit of time away from other projects (particularly right now, The Project). As far as I know, so far I’ll be in two or three episodes, although there may be more (that’s all [...] Click to continue reading this post

Tales from the Industry XXXIV – Revisiting an Extra Dimension

20110221-153433.jpgBefore jumping on to a plane last week, I went to meet some filmmakers to do a quick shoot we’d arranged. They are making a series of shorts for TV and myself and one of my co-contributors/presenters from The Universe, Laura Danly (from the Griffith Observatory) are doing some on-camera bits for them. (There may be others involved too, I don’t know.)

I mention this since there are two bits of novelty, I think. The first is that it is interesting that the company that commissioned these pieces are looking for shorts (4 minutes or so, apparently), and will be interspersing them with their programming in some way that will be somewhat unusual for current TV formats in the USA. I always welcome opportunities to help put some fun bits of science out there for the public, and in short bites mixed up with other things is just great!

The second novelty is that they are in 3D. You’ll recall, perhaps, that last year I contributed to a special show that was commissioned in 3D as part of the drive [...] Click to continue reading this post

Tales from the Industry XXXIII: Sometimes I Say No

…But then I feel bad about it at times, especially when there are good people involved. I was contacted on Thursday by a producer I know (I’ve worked with her before) about contributing to a TV show on a certain topic. They wanted to shoot this week. I was to talk in very specific terms about one issue, but it would be then fit into a larger topic that the whole episode is about, and the big theme of the whole series. It turned out that I also had worked with the filmmaker (writer-director) for the episode as well, on various things for the series The Universe on the History Channel that, as you know, I contribute to a lot. (See here.)

So all seemed fine. My concerns about the topic and how my contribution might be edited began to fall away, since these are good people… I spoke on the phone about some of the ideas I could bring up, and how I might try to frame things, and maybe we’d talk again about days of the week to set up the shoot, and so forth. But I asked if I could see other examples of episodes from the series, just to make sure that I was ok with it all.

It turned out that they could show me them since they were online. I looked at them [...] Click to continue reading this post

Time Travel a Click Away

cvj_with_wormholeI just noticed that last week’s episode of The Universe on Time Travel, which I told you about here and here, is available online on their website. Click here to learn more about the ins and outs of it, and I show you how to make one too! Kind of.

It is a difficult subject to explain, and one that must be tempting to [...] Click to continue reading this post

I Gotta Get Me One O’ These!

p-2048-1536-a738e2a5-eaa1-450b-9a0a-ed526300dc23.jpegSome of you will recognize the blue box in the picture on the left that I took recently while travelling. I have two things to mention in connection with it, but first let me mention that it is indeed what you think it is, but not really. In other words, it is in London (Earl’s Court), and it is a classic Police box (well, a modern relaunch), but it is not (as far as I am aware) also a disguised remarkable time machine owned by a somewhat eccentric renegade Time Lord. Ok?

Ok, thing number one. I don’t get the BBC America channel, but they kindly were dumping on to On Demand the episodes of the new season of Dr. Who, with the new writer and the new actor, so one day I thought I’d have a look. Just to get myself annoyed, because (sorry fans of its recent years) over the years I usually get ridiculously annoyed at how utterly stupid the show is, with lots of pointless running, and overacting, and cheap, crappy, silly plots and sets and so forth, and get even more annoyed when I remember it is mostly deliberate – we are supposed to enjoy the hokeyness in the spirit of nostalgia for the time many decades ago when it was on a super low budget but was ahead of its time. And I get more annoyed when I think that people abroad are watching this and thinking it is a prime example of great British television. Then I turn it off and ignore it for a year or two, and then do it all again. So anyway, I did that this time, back in the Spring. And guess what? [...] Click to continue reading this post

New Bounty, and Homeward Bound

white_figsBack in Los Angeles, things at home started on a rather pleasant note. I went out into the garden and picked four nice ripe figs off one of the trees, still warm from the sunlight. (Hmmmm… My nemesis, Fluffy, must be napping. Or planning something very subtle.) You can see three of them in my hand to the left. A fourth did not survive the wait period while I got my camera out of my luggage.

Sunday in Vienna was as interesting as Saturday, with more outdoor components than indoors since it was a lovely day, weather-wise. I wandered the city streets a lot, and spent a fair amount of time getting a feel for them, occasionally hopping on the subway (U-bahn) or a tram to nip over large distances, or to rest my feet. Other rest stops involved cafes for a beer, or a cup of tea, and a bit of people watching, reading, or other pleasant sitting activity.

Like Saturday, I saw a lot of art on Sunday, focusing again on Austrian artists primarily, and learning about the Secession movement in particular, and several of the characters associated with it. Fascinating.

I’ll do a post or two more on Vienna later on, I hope.

I left the city in the evening, heading for a brief stop in London before setting my sights on Los Angeles on Monday. Found myself in the amusing position of watching [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Universe Returns – In 3D!

universe_glamour_shotSo I mentioned recently that we’d been filming for the fifth season of The History Channel’s The Universe, earlier this month and during some of the previous two. Well, I learned the other day to my surprise that the new season starts airing next week!

On Thursday 29th July at 9:00pm (8:00pm central, but check local listings) the first episode will air. It’s a survey of some of the wonderful things in our solar system. You can find a synopsis here.

Now do you remember that I did a post at some point about being filmed in 3D, and [...] Click to continue reading this post

Bad Universe

Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy has announced what his super secret project has been. It’s a new science TV show for the Discovery Channel! It is called “Phil Plait’s Bad Universe”, and I imagine it’ll be a lot of fun and quite informative. There’s a trailer and some of his thoughts about the show here. I could not work out when it is going to air, so keep your eyes peeled*.

Enjoy!

-cvj

*Sorry. That’s such a dreadful image that phrase can sometimes project…
[...] Click to continue reading this post

Tales From The Industry XXXII: A Matter of Time

patzcuaro_clocksHere are some clocks I saw at the House of Eleven Courtyards (Casa de los Once Patios) in the historic town called Pátzcuaro (at the aforementioned lake of the same name). It was a convent, and is now a place to go and see lots of arts and crafts in action, as well as buy some. The clocks, housed in copper, mark the entrance to an entire room of copper workmanship in various forms.

The clocks have reminded me to give you an update on something else. Through some of May and June, I did a lot of work for the show The Universe, which airs on the History Channel (as you probably already know from reading here over the years. See here.). There will be, as usual, several topics covered over the upcoming season, and it will be interesting to see how the various filmmakers put together their episodes. It is worth noting that the History Channel have done something remarkable here. This is now the longest run that any cable channel has had for a science show. They built an audience with a solid show, and kept producing good episodes and gathering more (and it is worth saying, an admirably diverse set of) viewers over the years.

In fact, the show has been so successful that they are going to, I predict, pay an [...] Click to continue reading this post

Tales From The Industry XXXI – An Extra Dimension

I went off into an extra dimension yesterday. Well, in a manner of speaking. No, this was not anything to do with my string theory work!

I was being filmed in 3D.

3d_cameraThere’s a bit of a 3D revolution going on. There have been a lot of 3D movies out lately. Some are better than others, and a great deal more are to come very soon, as you probably know. Many major filmmakers that you probably regard as “serious” filmmakers have 3D films in the works. There’ll be 3D TV channels appearing soon in the UK and probably elsewhere, and they’ve been selling the TVs already, both there and in the USA (and I imagine, in other places).

There are lots of questions you’ve no doubt asked yourself: Is the technology here to stay? Is it just a gimmick? Is it just a ploy to combat piracy? Is it a new aspect of the visual form that creative filmmakers can genuinely use to enhance the story-telling? Has that happened yet? And so on and so forth…

I’ve been asking myself those questions too. I did not expect, however, to be part of the revolution (if that is what it is) and be filmed in 3D, so soon, for a TV show. My [...] Click to continue reading this post

She Blinded Me With Science…

The funny video below* is good for a bit of nostalgia for the time of the Thomas Dolby song, the song itself, and perhaps for the X-Files TV show (but not for me, I saw only a few episodes). Scully fans will love this, and although I never regularly watched the show, I did appreciate her character. Strong skepticism, insistence on using the scientific method, etc. Excellent. Good character overall, and broke a lot of ground as a female lead with these characteristics too.

chloe_obrian_24Now here’s an idea. Would someone please do such a video for 24′s Chloe O’Brian? (Pictured left.) She’s definitely one of my favourite technical expert engineer/scientist types on a major show, and Mary Lynn Rajskub does an excellent job giving her life, depth and likeability even though she’s fighting against all the geek/nerd stereotype characteristics they’ve endowed her with. In essence, she does it by embracing them. Her attention to detail regularly saves the day (world, city, state, whatever), and the lives of her colleagues, and in the last episode they even had her supposedly determining that light in a video was daylight by [...] Click to continue reading this post

A Return

gladioliI find myself back in Los Angeles for a bit, putting Walkabout mode on pause. Perhaps to do my laundry, perhaps to chair the committee of the upcoming Ph.D. defense of my student, Tameem, perhaps to be able to sit outside in the early morning sun in a T-shirt and blog over breakfast.

The garden is full of weeds and flowers, and all is well with the world, albeit a bit blurry due to my jetlag.

Anyway, a few random things to note:

* * *

mourning_dovesAnother Spring is here, in full force. I once again snort in exasperated laughter at the bizarre claim so very many people make about Los Angeles (Southern California more generally) not having seasons, as I marvel at all the many signs of it screaming for attention. As a random example, I’m observing some mourning doves eyeing me up from nearby as they try to decide whether I’m a threat to their potential nesting sites that they are checking out. Seems that at least one pair is rather impressed with my cluster of strelitzia nicolai and want to move in. I want to tell them that I’m not the problem, but the fact that they’d be in plain sight of the crows/rooks/ravens/winged-Nazgul that pass by here a lot will be. I’ve seen them strike nests in those trees from previous years and scoop up a tasty warm meal.

* * *

Eight hours of jetlag means only one thing: [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Onion on Science Programming

Yes, it’s very funny*, and awfully close to the truth as well, at least in terms of the final product. More seriously, it is worth noting that what they get wrong is the blaming of it on audiences. It is actually more about the channels (not just the Science Channel) themselves and the sort of business models they run. We, the scientists who care to, must carry on contributing where we can as well as encouraging and supporting the film-makers as much as we can. It’s not really their fault so much as the people who call the shots at the head of the money food chain. Most of the film-makers I’ve worked with on the many shows I’ve helped with (either in front of or behind the camera, or both) are passionate about the science, are keenly interested in understanding it more so as to tell the story to the public as well as they can, and are capable of doing so. They most often can’t get their shows past the people at the top who believe that the material is too inaccessible or not interesting to the public. (I’ve heard the same complaint from science journalists working in the print media too.) On the other hand, I get recognized and stopped on [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Creative Science Studio

I received an email the other day asking me if I had any connection to the new initiative announced at USC recently (link here), talking about a new partnership (involving USC and the NSF) for increasing and improving the amount of science in entertainment and media products such as films and television shows, and probably more. It is called the Creative Science Studio, or CS2. You’ve read me talk about these sorts of projects on the blog a huge amount, and so I won’t repeat the motivations here (you can find earlier thoughts if you look under some of the categories this post is in for other posts on the subject).

One of the fallouts (fallsout?) of being a dabbler, behind-the-scenes-agitator and general troublemaker is that one can never really tell what are all the final projects, initiatives (and so forth) that come about as a result (at least in part) of one’s actions. In trying to significantly move forward things such as this (involving public [...] Click to continue reading this post

Meteorite Men!

meteorite_men Did you watch Meteorite Men last week? If not, you can probably catch a repeat. It is a new series, airing 9pm ET/PT Wednesday nights, on the Science Channel about two guys who search for meteorites. Check your local listings for times. (Photo cheekily snapped from their site. Copyright aerolite meteorites.)

I learned about it from Bob Melisso, my producer/filmmaker friend (and occasional collaborator: see here, here and here) who made the pilot and is the supervising producer for the series. From [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Universe: Cool Cars, Hot Sand, and Fast Balls

flows in death valleyYou may recall my mentioning a desert trip to shoot something for TV, some time back. One done at precisely the wrong time of year. And to Death Valley, one of the hottest places on earth, to boot. Well, I meant to mention that the episode of the History Channel’s The Universe that the shoot was for aired a week or two ago and it was really excellent. It was entitled “Liquid Universe” and it was a rather beautiful and thoroughly pleasant episode exploring the role of liquids in our universe, a matter not often raised in questions of astronomy except when it comes to matters of water from time to time. This was not about water per se, but rather the whole matter of material that flows and the role it plays in diverse areas of the solar system and perhaps the universe at large. I was using sand to demonstrate how sometimes there are surprising places where you can find fluid/liquid behaviour, and mentioned some of the new phases of matter found in the context, for example, of quarks and gluons at RHIC. (I’ve spoken about that here a number of times in the context of some of my research. See the archives.)

It was an excellent episode and another example of how one can take a topic under the “The Universe” heading and showcase lots of exciting science quite accessibly [...] Click to continue reading this post

Slaughter at the Podium

debate_on_catholic_church1I simply insist that you take the time out to watch this video*. It is of a debate that took place on BBC television, the motion being “Is the Catholic church a force for good in the world?”. It was between Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry on one side (against) and Anne Widdecombe and Archbishop John Onaiyekan on the other (for). Dogma vs Reason, when it comes down to it. Now, it is one thing for the side that is in favour of the motion to be a bit lame compared to the duo they are up against, but it is really unfortunate that Anne Widdecombe was put up as the defender of the church as she has been so utterly arrogant and unpleasant in every appearance I have ever heard or seen her in, [...] Click to continue reading this post

Brian Cox on Colbert

brian_cox_colbertPhysicist Brian Cox had a bit of fun on Colbert a few nights back*. At Stephen Colbert’s prompting he mentions the nonsense about time travel and the Higgs boson, (which I decided not to blog since it was so frustratingly idiotic and had no business in, for example the science section of a national newspaper not the least because it just serves to confuse readers with even more nonsense about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) than they already have been) and then has a blast (it seems) discussing the importance of Special Relativity, E=mc^2, and why you should care, which is the subject of his new book with Jeff Forshaw.

Unfortunately he seems, at one point, to fall into the usual (high-horsed physicist) pattern of dismissing another legitimate science endeavour (food science in this case) as not science, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it was just a joke made in the heat of the moment. He’s too smart and likeable a guy, (and a very good public spokesperson for science education by all accounts and past appearances), to be quite so dismissive. Riffing fast and furious with Colbert will no doubt sometimes produce such slips.

By the way (and Brian does not get this wrong, but does not get the chance to say it, and I’m sure he knows it) people often get left with the impression from press releases about the LHC (see related posts below for lots of LHC background) and other [...] Click to continue reading this post

Dawkins, Atwood and More – On Darwin!

As you may know I’m a Margaret Atwood fan (read my immoderately breathless account here), and I also think that Richard Dawkins is an excellent scientist and science communicator. On the other hand, as you also know from earlier discussions, I don’t think that his take-no-prisoners approach to the science and religion discussion is the best way forward. Anyway, I found this marvelous Newsnight special from last month. A celebration of Darwin and his work. It has lots of discussion about Darwin then and now, cultural and scientific impact, the ongoing debates, a new staging of a play, a recent film, and participating is Atwood, Dawkins, and the Rev. Richard Coles and the poet Ruth Padel (who is also a descendant of Darwin.) It is in four parts and [...] Click to continue reading this post

Clusters

I’m sitting on the sofa watching what has so far been a really excellent episode of The Universe on the History Channel. It is entitled “Cosmic Clusters” and it has been a lovely journey (15 minutes show time gone by so far) on an imaginary spaceship ride through the galaxy looking at formations of star clusters, and discussing the process of star formation in those clusters, their birth and the conditions involved, how those conditions change as things progress, the different kinds of stars that can result, the curious case of globular clusters (M13 is pictured below, by Yuugi Kitahara) and so forth. I think it is going to go on to discuss clusters of galaxies, and clusters of those…

m13_kitahara

I’ve learned quite a bit so far from watching it, actually. It is a really lovely discussion with excellent contributions from my friend and colleague Amy Mainzer, Alex [...] Click to continue reading this post

Doomsday Fun and Games

the_universeI’ve been wondering why over the last day or two I’ve been getting email about various apocalyptic scenarios. I’ve now figured out why, I think. On Tuesday, several scientists, myself included, played with the idea of how to destroy the earth! Well, it was on the History Channel in an episode of the show the Universe, (it was recorded back in June and July) entitled “Ten Ways to Destroy the Earth”. Of course, these are not scenarios we envision happening any time soon, but rather an excuse to talk about various kinds of science (from spontaneous symmetry breaking and the early universe, through planetary science, solar physics, and of course black holes and more). We list various favourite ways that were chosen to be discussed, and each physicist (although they called me an astrophysicist) picks a favourite. Fun stuff.

I chose putting a huge amount of antimatter at the core of the earth and letting it [...] Click to continue reading this post