We’ve all watched it. Well, 5 million people have tuned in over the past weeks, and I’d thought that I’d never say that quantum physics had become the highlight of my week. But that’s where we are. And it’s bloody great.
Yes, the Wonders Of The Solar System has landed on Sunday nights, and all of a sudden we’ve got a scientist that’s cool, that doesn’t look like a teacher, and who can speak in ways that takes a ridiculously complex subject and talks about it in a way that anyone can understand. Professor Brian Cox has popped up on Horizon before, and he’s a regular contributor to Sean Keavney’s breakfast show on 6Music, and (seemingly trawled out at every turn) he was in D:ream, (and, much cooler, he was the scientific consultant on Sunshine), but the most important thing is that he’s been involved at CERN with the Atlas Experiment, he’s a Royal Society University Research Fellow in Manchester, specialising in Particle Physics.
Those last three may not seem a reason to get excited (though for a geek like me it is) but when you watch the show, and marvel at its big ideas, you wonder why nothing like this has been on tv before. It’s simple really, physics doesn’t sell. We all love to look at slo-mos of tigers chasing antelopes as Sir David’s dulcet tones recount the glory of the natural world, but we’re not supposed to be enthralled by the ice on on Europa, or gasp at the height of Olympus Mons. But the genius of the program is that Cox has managed to take subject that seems as cold as the Artic, and make it as interesting as the first time you lit a bunsen burner at school.
The laconic Lancastrian has put into terms that you and I can understand, just what links us to the planets in the Solar System, what parallels there are between volcanoes, canyons, ice sheets, and craters here, on Earth, and throughout our faraway neighbours. It’s jaw-droppingly fascinating, and delivered with the enthusiasm – and the beauty, from some incredible film and effects – of your favourite childhood teacher, and the result is, for me, a rekindling of a love for the cosmos that I had as a kid, that I obsessed over the Moon landings on when I was 14, that made me want to be an astronaut (didn’t we all) and that makes me want to dive back into this all headlong. Yes, when the LHC started warming up it came flooding back, the sheer geekery (and the insane numbers involved) brought out the inner nerd, but five hours of the best science tv in years is what’s got me wondering about relativity, anti-matter, solar flares, string theory and gravity.
I’m unashamedly a fan, and we need people like Cox. Science has taken a battering of late, and physics especially is something that brings blank looks across faces, but I never thought I’d be talking to people at work about Jupiter’s moons on a Monday morning, instead of the football. Sometimes, you just get dragged in, and I’m even excited about reading his book. On the theory of relativity. With equations in it (oh god, not my AO Level Maths again). If even 1 kid for every 50 that watched this gets hooked on physics and the universe then it’s probably done more good in just over a month than hundreds of teachers could, and that’s reason enough to get excited. Yes, you could argue that Cox’s public profile, his Twitter account and work on the BBC could dilute his study, but when it’s bringing science to so many, then it’s worth every effort.
I just wish there was another five shows to take me into May.