Professor Brian Cox: The Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture

Tonight, Professor Brian Cox gave the Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture at the Royal Geographical Society. And it was a delight to behold.

Professor Brian Cox

Professor Brian Cox, courtesy of Paul Clarke

After a rather lacklustre introduction from a guy from Save the Rhino, the charity benefiting from the gig, Brian (if I may call him Brian) was introduced by Robin Ince, whose humour resonated with me and brought the fabulous room to life.

And up stood Brian. No notes. Just slides.

He talked eloquently and enthusiastically, about the universe, its increasing size, the minuteness of Earth in the context of the 100 billion galaxies, each containing billions of stars. And at the opposite end of the scale he talked about the make-up of that universe—protons, muons and the elusive Higgs boson. And if that wasn’t enough, his talk was interrupted by a famous video showing Richard P. Feynman explaining physics at a blackboard. (I welled up at this stage.)

It was wondrous. It resonated. Cox is phenomenally intelligent, deeply passionate and northern, a powerful combination of qualities. And I mean that about all three.

His intelligence is obvious. But it’s not superficial. He talked at great length and often went off on scientific tangents that doubtless baffled much of the room, me most definitely included. His interpretation of formulae came with context that has come from years of study.

His passion is unquestionable. He lives and breathes this stuff, and he loves living and breathing this stuff. He’s like a child in awe at the scale of the universe and that awe generates awe in his audience. He cares deeply about science and its future. And it’s infectious.

And his northernness helps immeasurably. His Mancunian accent is at odds with that of traditional academia. And while it makes for an unconventional package, it helps inordinately in making him approachable and welcoming.

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, and my grin on many occasions rivalled Brian’s, which is no mean feat. I took along Paul, the first tweeter to raise his hand to claim my spare ticket, and probably the person I would have chosen to take anyway. He revelled in the lecture but also snapped away equipped with his monstrous camera lens, thwarted only by the literally lacklustre lighting that barely illuminated his subject.

There were two things that fell short, however. First, Save the Rhino’s introduction claimed that their cause was the most important conservation cause that existed, but failed to really say why. And Brian’s talk was titled “The universe and why we should explore it”. But again, while covering topics of extraordinary interest, it failed to answer the exam question.

Overall, I’m thoroughly satisfied. Professor Brian Cox was extraordinary and inspirational. I hope I can share an ounce of his enthusiasm in communicating science to my daughter.


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