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Category: Oxford

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 7 – Our friends electric: the coming battery revolution with Brill Power

What could be more familiar than the humble electric battery? They’ve been around for years, factories knock them out regular as clockwork and we’re pretty familiar with them. They are in our phones, our remote controls, our game controllers and our cars.

So it may sound slightly crazy to say that the battery represents the start of a new industrial revolution.

(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)

As well as our ubiquitous personal electronics, the accelerating and irreversible move to electric transportation and energy storage is sending our demand for batteries soaring. And this is bringing as many challenges as opportunities, particularly in areas of waste, weight and re-usability.

The bottom line is we need lots of better, longer-lasting and greener batteries – and we need them very soon.

In a constantly surprisingly – and genuinely inspirational – hour-long podcast, we talked to Carolyn Hicks and Christoph Birkl of Oxford University spin-out Brill Power. Emerging from Oxford University’s Department of Engineering Science, Brill is looking to bring about a revolution in battery control systems to extend the lifespan of multi-cell batteries.

This is important. Here in the UK we’ve made innovation in battery technology one of the key priorities of our industrial strategy. The UK government has even founded a new independent institute – The Faraday Institution on the Harwell Campus – to spearhead this work.

Throughout this fascinating and inspirational podcast, one thing comes across again and again: there is a revolution coming in transportation and grid energy storage, batteries are at the heart of everything – and the manufacture of these batteries represents the frontiers of a new global economic power struggle.

We guarantee you one thing: after listening to this episode, you’ll never look at the humble battery in the same way again.

(Listen now on SoundCloud – iTunes – Stitcher)

We have produced a comprehensive set of show notes, including links, analysis and organisation contacts. Members of the Stories from Science community automatically get access to these for free by becoming a supporter through Patreon – or email us for more details.