Talking ‘big science’ in Oxford

February seems like a decade ago now — thanks to a broken collar bone I suffered on the bike later that month and now the worldwide shutdown due to COVID-19.

On 22 February, I headed to Oxford for a one-day meeting about “big science” in physics that was organised by the St Cross Centre for the History and Philosophy of Physics at Oxford University.

Held in the Martin Wood Lecture theatre at the Department of Physics, the meeting, which was open to the public, covered the past, present and future of big science.

I was invited to give the closing talk covering what we can expect to look forward to in the coming decade from big science facilities in physics.

In the talk, which you can view above, I also offered a few predictions for the decade ahead (“brave”, one person said to me afterwards) — one of which was that astronauts will return to the Moon.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, it looks likey that some of those predictions may now not happen in the coming ten years. So, I have learnt at least one thing since the talk — things can change very quickly. Another being not to make predictions in the first place.

Multimessenger breakthrough

Each year Physics World selects its top 10 breakthroughs of the year. A panel of editors (including me) sit down and sift through the year’s physics coverage, picking out our favourites.

The criteria includes that the research is of fundamental importance; makes a significant advance in knowledge; has a strong connection between theory and experiment; and is of general interest to all physicists.

This year, rather unsurprisingly, the award has gone to the international team of astronomers and astrophysicists that ushered in a new era of astronomy by making the first ever multimessenger observation involving gravitational waves.

Of course, the LIGO observatories in the US were instrumental in this work and it is the second time in a row they have been honoured by the Physics World breakthrough. (The three physicists behind LIGO – Kip Thorne, Barry Barish and Rainer Weiss – won this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics, but surely that is of secondary importance).

Other highly commended work in the top 10 include the first topological laser as well as the creation of “time crystals”.

Take a look at the top 10 here.



Notes from Japan

My week-long trip to Japan is now over. It’s been a busy and fascinating trip. Here is what I got up to.


News story:

Talk on science communication at Tokyo Institute of Technology: