A FAIRGROUND OF INTELLECTUAL CURIOSITY – HELEN CZERSKI

A FAIRGROUND OF INTELLECTUAL CURIOSITY – HELEN CZERSKI

 

Walking into the Hay Festival for the first time on Friday felt like passing through the gates of a giant fairground of intellectual curiosity.    Instead of roller coasters, carousels and a coconut shy, there were master storytellers, politicians, and historians, whisking the punters from one glittering stall of ideas to the next.  Hoopla might be a hard game to win, but lob a question at a Hay speaker, and you were always guaranteed a prize.  I spent Friday happily bouncing from one talk to the next, somehow never having quite enough time in the gaps to get to the front of the ice cream queue.

My own turn came on Saturday, and an enthusiastic audience filled up the Oxfam Moot to hear me talk about physics in our everyday lives.  I’ve got a proper bee in my bonnet about society’s perception of physics, and how 90% of the physics in the media and books only represents about 10% of the subject.   Cosmology and quantum mechanics are great, but most physicists are studying the world on our size and time scales – the sort of physics that determines how planes fly, what limits the height of a tree and what’s happening underneath a breaking wave.

I love this stuff, mostly because it lets me play with the world around me, although since I’m a professional physicist, it’s also my job.  But mostly because it’s all about patterns, and the patterns are there for everyone to see.   We can all learn the basics of physics by playing in the everyday world, and that’s what my book, Storm in a Teacup, is all about.  I’m a fairly animated speaker (some might say slightly over-excited), and the lovely Hay audience came right along with me on a journey through eggs, teacups, the Hubble Space Telescope, diamonds and jelly.   If they look twice at a raw egg next time they see one, I will feel that I did a good job.   As long as they don’t then throw it at me and expect a goldfish as a prize, that is…