Public treats abound as big ideas look a little smaller
TALKS AND EVENTS:THE EUROSCIENCE Open Forum (Esof) was never just about the scientists.
From the beginning the plan was to include the public, encourage children and give the lie to the common belief that science is irrelevant to or too difficult for the ordinary person.
The Convention Centre Dublin was the fulcrum of the serious activity, but it is not the only place where events are going on. Some 60 events are organised every day around Esof aimed at the general public.
Yesterday, there was a talk by the head of Nasa, administrator Charles Bolden; by Dr Craig Venter, the leader of the Human Genome Project, or by Prof Brian Greene, a physicist and author of the popular science book The Elegant Universe, which has sold a million copies.
Described as a “rock star among physicists”, Greene gave a talk at the Science Gallery yesterday evening which sold out several days in advance and included among its audience the comedian Dara O Briain.
Greene has been described as the “single best explainer of abstruse ideas in the world today” and he was explaining again all about the head-wrecking ideas of string and superstring theory.
String theory rose out of the fact that there are discrepancies between the general theory of relativity, which describes the very large, and quantum physics, which describes the very small.
Essentially, he said, string theory says that the smallest things are not little dots such as neutrons, protons and electrons, but infinitesimally small vibrating strings which appear to “cure” the discrepancies in the competing theories of physics.
He also elaborated on his theory that our universe is only one of a countless number of universes known as multiverses. “It’s a strange idea,” he confesses, and it allows for the possibility “mathematically” that everything that could ever happen has happened in one of these multiverses.
He delivers all these difficult ideas with great levity, adding that Sarah Palin could never become US president in any of these multiverses because it would not be consistent with the laws of physics, which are the same everywhere.
At the Natural History Museum, hundreds of children are being taught how animals are classified. Not everybody is aware that only “creepy-crawlies” with six legs can be called insects.
Education assistant Catherine McGuinness was lining up a tarantula (spiders are not insects), a grasshopper, a scorpion and a crab for children to decide which one is an insect. Only a grasshopper is an insect, but most of the attention is focused on the tarantula, which looks scary even behind glass.