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Category: Harwell

Ep 11 (Pt 1) – Atoms, Spies and Science Communication with Frank Close

In 2016 the Royal Institution commissioned a book pulling together a ‘baker’s dozen’ of the finest Christmas Lectures since 1885. One of the lectures chosen was the 1993 lecture by Professor Frank Close entitled ‘The Cosmic Onion‘.

(You can watch all five episodes – as broadcast by the BBC – on the Royal Institution website here. Accessible to anyone – young or old – it’s remains a thoroughly entertaining journey through physics, the universe and, well, everything.)

Frank’s journey into science communication started through writing for Nature and then New Scientist. A distinguished particle physicist, Frank’s CV takes in many of the world’s most important places for breakthroughs in physics: Stanford, CERN, Daresbury and Rutherford Appleton Lab. He is now Emeritus Professor at the University of Oxford.

He is also one of the world’s foremost experts on eclipses, having travelled all over the world to witness them. Frank also helped found the annual ATOM Festival or Science and Technology in Abingdon.

But it is as a writer and populiser of scientific ideas that Frank is best known. He has written critically acclaimed books on the neutrino, antimatter, the science of symmetry (‘Lucifer’s Legacy‘) and the story behind the hunt for the Higgs Bosun (‘The Infinity Puzzle‘).

 

 

 

 

In recent years, Frank has written about the stories behind the atomic spies, and his latest book ‘Trinity: The Treachery and Pursuit of the Most Dangerous Spy in History‘ (published in 2019) details the gripping story of Klaus Fuchs, who worked on both the Manhattan Project and at the UK’s nuclear laboratory at Harwell, and who co-ordinated the leaking of critical information that allowed the Soviet Union to develop their own atomic bomb.

He was vice-president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, has received the Royal Society’s Michael Faraday Prize and the Institute of Physics Kelvin Medal for outstanding contributions to science communication. Awarded an OBE in 2000 for services to science, in 2019 Frank was interviewed by Jim Al-Khalili on the BBC’s ‘The Life Scientific‘.

Such is the sheer range and history of Frank’s experiences, the episode is split into two parts.

Part 1 focuses on Science Communication: how he (accidentally) became a science writer in the first place, the story behind that groundbreaking 1993 Christmas Lecture, and finally his experiences as head of communications at CERN when he realised that effectively explaining big science to a wider world was critical in getting popular and political support for all science.

Along the way we explore how close the UK came to pulling out of CERN in the 1980s, how to create an explosion in your bare hands, and the secret to great research: it’s all about asking the right questions apparently…

(Listen now on SoundCloud – iTunes – Stitcher – for a comprehensive set of show notes, including links, analysis and organisation contact, consider becoming a supporter through Patreon – or email us for more details)

Part 2 (to be published later this month) will focus on his writing career – where he learned his craft, how he came to uncover some of the (still classified) secrets during the development of the UK’s atomic bomb, and the story behind his latest book. Frank will be talking about ‘Trinity’ at The Amey Theatre in Abingdon on November 20, 2019.

Ep 10 – Rezatec: Fixing the Planet from the High Frontier

At a recent Bessemer Society event in Oxford, amongst discussions about new space, disruptive technologies and the cubesat revolution, one of the participants made the following observation.

“Earth is surrounded by layers that act to protect life on the planet from the harshness of space: we know about our atmosphere and the ozone layer, but in the Anthropocene, we’ve added another layer that is becoming just as critical: a thin veneer of data.”

We have become increasingly reliant on the ever growing swarm of satellites that orbit our planet: navigation, communications, security, and the monitoring of everything from natural disasters to climate change. But turning that stream of critical data into high-value intelligence for decision makers is becoming big business: estimates for the booming Earth Observation (EO) market vary from between $8.5bn to $15bn by 2026.

One company in the vanguard of the EO revolution is Harwell-based Rezatec.

Rezatec take data from a wide range of sources, and use geospatial analytics to transform it into something called ‘landscape intelligence’ – usable information on forests, crops, water catchments and even city planning. Increasing numbers of governments, NGOs, utilities and businesses around the globe use this intelligence to do everything from stopping the spread of crop diseases to better safeguarding the security of water supplies.

We sat down with Chief Operating Officer Philip Briscoe and Chief Technical Officer Andrew Carrel to better understand what Rezatec does and why Earth Observation science is becoming so critical: from improving crop yields to making our cities more sustainable.

It seems as if Rezatec use almost every cutting-edge area of science and technology to bear on this data layer: data analytics and machine learning, climate science and biosecurity.

It’s genuinely exciting and Rezatec are growing fast, winning awards, and recently moved into a spanking new HQ building on the Harwell Campus (‘Quad One’). This Autumn, Rezatec joined forces with the European Space Agency (ESA) in contributing to the Invisible Words exhibition at the Eden Project.

Earth Observation is transforming our relationship with the planet, and as we’ll discover, we’ve only just scratched the surface…

(Listen now on SoundCloud – iTunes – Stitcher – for a comprehensive set of show notes, including links, analysis and organisation contact, consider becoming a supporter through Patreon – or email us for more details)