Professor Brian Cox: "The Biggest Threat To Our Planet Is Human Stupidity"

Robin Ince (left) and Brian Cox are celebrating the 100th episode of their popular science radio show. BBC/Richard Ansett.

Jonathan O`Callaghan 09 Jul 2018, 14:44

What have been your top science discoveries since the start of the show in November 2009?

Brian: Well certainly the Higgs [boson].

Robin: It’s weird isn’t it. Because it almost coincides with when you became so busy on TV and radio that you weren’t at CERN anymore. Then you left, and suddenly with you out of the way, bloody hell. Sterling work wasn’t it! Now he’s gone we’ve collided the correct particles together.

Brian: If you think about it, Higgs’ paper was published before I was born. So my whole life was waiting for that moment as a particle physicist.

Robin: I do [like] the Neanderthal story. I went out and met Svante Pääbo, who did really the main piece of genetic research, they got the DNA and helped realize how much coupling there was between what became Homo sapiens and Neanderthals.

Brian: It’s a technology revolution. The fact that sequencing DNA was extremely expensive and difficult back in 2009. And now it’s basically trivial. You can do it for a few thousand dollars. And that’s why these big advances in biology arrive. Also if you think about it, recently we went to Pluto. We had no idea what Pluto was like. And Cassini was really just beginning to return science, and now we suspect the rings of Saturn are young for example. We didn’t know.

Robin: I found the images from Curiosity on Mars [when it landed in August 2012] were something that was so, that was the moment that felt startling. That ability to have such clear images of another planet. That felt like a tremendous moment of enlightenment. It was beautiful and astonishing.

This was one of Curiosity's first color images on Mars, taken on August 8, 2012, three days after the rover landed. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

And what’s your least favorite discovery of the last decade?

Brian: I don’t think there is such a thing. You can be a theoretician and a discovery could be made that disproved your theory. But the true scientist is delighted when that happens, because they’ve learned something about the universe. So I don’t think there is such a thing as the acquisition of a piece of knowledge which is to be regretted.

Is there something you hoped would have been discovered now that hasn’t?

Brian: I think many of us at the LHC thought we would see a theory like supersymmetry, which would provide an explanation for dark matter. That is slightly surprising and intriguing that we haven’t seen that. If you’d asked me in 2009, before the LHC switched on, I would have said we’d probably find a Higgs-like object, but we may well find supersymmetry as well.

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