Category Archives: Edinburgh International Book Festival
He’s written about antimatter, neutrinos, voids and cosmic onions. But most recently Professor Frank Close, Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Exeter College, has written a fascinating book, ‘The Infinity Puzzle’, on the people behind the Higgs Boson and the Large Hadron Collider in Europe.
Luckily I had the chance to catch up with him for half an hour to chat about everything from where Physics is going to his pet cat.
So if you want to hear more about ‘out of the box’ thinking students, physicists who might be spies or whether Frank has ever suffered from Nobelitis then just go through to the interview here or you can click on the ‘Interviews’ tab at the top of the page.
It’s not often that I come out of events with my cheeks aching and a giant grin on my face. But Jenny Colgan’s event with Steve Cole chairing was by far the funniest hour I had in Charlotte Square.
Between the two Doctor Who book writers, we covered Jenny’s previous chic-lit books, David Tennant (obviously!), Doctor Who girl fans, Neil Gaiman, quarter of a million pounds, Rose & the Doctor sitcoms in a parallel universe, His Dark Materials and about a billion other things.
Oh, and of course they talked about her Doctor Who book, ‘Dark Horizons’, which sounds absolutely fabulous and from what I heard during her reading she has nailed the personality of the 11th Doctor and the kind of disastrous sort of situations he seems to always find himself in, and even though she said she can’t do the voice, she had a pretty good try at pretending to be Matt Smith.
And we can’t forget Steve’s rather, erm, interesting method of chairing events. Luckily he wasn’t asked to hand out any coloured paper.
But combine those two into one event seems to create an explosion of hilariousness (if that’s a word). Personally, I hope they do it again next year!!
The Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival himself introduced Frank Close and Peter Higgs, and admitted that he was surprised that an event about Particle Physics had a full house! He said that tickets had been selling steadily until July 4th, when they started selling big time. I wonder why…
Peter Higgs was a late addition to the programme, but he had asked if he could chair this brilliant event (which he did well, by the way) so as the Director said, how could he refuse.
Then they walked in. And the clapping started and it felt like it was never going to stop. Ever. It did eventually, but I will admit, I was one of the last ones to stop.
Frank Close started by giving a quick tour of the fundamental forces and the infinity issues, just to brush up people’s Physics. And then a swing around the current Nobel Prize situation surrounding the (technically still to be confirmed 100%) discovery of the Higgs Boson, involving the Gang of Six, six Physicists who all produced more or less the same theory at more or less the same time.
From there, Frank and Peter talked together (and with the audience) about the discovery and how it has affected Peter and the world in general. Frank began with mentioning how he found it annoying that whenever an athlete won a gold medal in the Olympics, they were asked “how did it feel?”. He turns to Peter and asks “How did it feel?”.
After that they talk about Peter’s drinking buddies in Sicily, travel insurance and jokily insult the Scottish. Frank also recounts what had happened earlier, when he and Peter had gone for a photocall with the photographers (including me) and how with Peter the photographers flocked around him, so Frank took a picture, “looking for the Higgs”.
Closing off before questions, Frank briefly explains the statistics of the Higgs Boson discovery, and actually points out how “likely” 5 sigma is.
The first question asked was a simple one, “what’s next?”. Frank and Peter were also asked about technological limitations, the answer including a discussion of cosmic rays and the particles they collapse into which were streaming through us that very second (prompting a woman near me to look at her hand). Not to mention the possibility of a ‘Higgs Factory,’ where lots of Higgs Bosons could in theory be produced, which I really hope will be called that because I think the name is just pure brilliance.
One good question that had come from someone via the internet was about how this discovery affected the man in the street. They had a very simple answer to that, it doesn’t solve the economic crisis. Though they did also point out that the cost of the LHC is only a fraction of what was spent bailing the banks out.
Before finishing, Frank had a closing comment for Peter, that after 48 years of patience, he was “just so pleased that’s you’re actually here to see it”.
And with that, we all ran to the signing tent to have our books not only signed by Frank Close, but by Peter Higgs as well!!!
Afterwards, I asked Bookwitch how much she had been able to follow. But she said she had understood most of it, so I think the only soul in the tent that had been bored was the guide dog. Maybe dogs don’t like Particle Physics….
We’re all killing each other, there is such a thing as the Brian Cox effect and hard hats cause more trouble than the rocks they supposedly protect from. These are just a fraction of what me and Dr Ted Nield chatted about during the interview.
So here is the interview with Ted Nield from the Edinburgh International Book Festival (though we weren’t actually in Charlotte Square).
The interview can be viewed here (or on the interviews tab).
(Photo © Ann Giles)