Old Macdonald had a…Universe!

On Friday 11th January, 15 budding young Physicists signed up to the Physics Lecture Trip. This involved us travelling to York to see a lecture given by Dr Chris Lintott (friend of Brian Cox and presenter of the Sky at Night) at St Peters School York.

The lads and I made our way to York on the cold and dark January night. On the way there the roads were free of traffic until we hit York, only to be confronted with gridlock (no surprise there then). After waiting twenty minutes we made a safe exit off the minibus and briskly walked to the high class eating establishment ‘McDonalds’.

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To our amazement there weren’t dozens of PHD Physics post-graduates chatting about the ‘Large Hadron Collider’ while guzzling on their happy meals. It was more of a raucous atmosphere of loud teenagers buying whatever they could with their recently collected ‘Christmas tips’ paper round money before they went on to buy another tracksuit at the late opening JD Sports around the corner. Even on our way into the ‘restaurant’ we were greeted by some welcoming York youths, who seemed to think we were a group of female ‘Brownies’. No matter, we ate with haste in our corduroy jeans, blazers and elbow pads, before setting off for the Physics lecture, because we had important business that evening – to find out what 700,000 people can tell us about the universe!

We arrived at St Peters School in good time, and made our way around the various Physics experiments set up for the evening prior to the main event of the Physics lecture. A very interesting infrared camera captured the boys imagination. You could actually still see a heat hand print from somebody touching a surface up to a minute after. Further to this, the infrared camera highlighted the greenhouse effect, and that the infrared waves humans emit do not penetrate glass.

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We then made our way into the lecture hall, which to the boys’ amazement actually had chairs with comfortable cushions, unlike our own school hall. Dr Chris Lintott was introduced after he had stoically travelled up from Stargazing Live the previous evening.

In the lecture Dr Lintott had the boys entranced with his images of the universe, galaxies and weird stars. He explained the current understanding of black holes being at the centre of our galaxies, how they are identified and what they do. Not only that, the boys learned of the term ‘Spaghettification’, which is what happens to anyone or anything that comes close to a black hole!

Dr Lintott then went on to describe the work being done by many hundreds of thousands of people in the own homes, by looking at stars and galaxies in helping scientists identify what the universe is really made up of. I have forgotten the name of the person, however, one man in the room had actually found a planet orbiting a star in our Milky Way, and Dr Lintott was in the process of naming it after this man. Zoouniverse is a website where you can access the images of stars and galaxies to help scientists map our universe.

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After the lecture Dr Chris Lintott was signing and selling his books for £12 or so. The boys took this opportunity to not only get as many freebies as possible, such as Frisbees and mini calendars, but also to have the audacity to ask Dr Chris to sign everything they had about their person (literally everything!). I thought at one stage they were going to ask him to sign their shirts.

Anyway, after what felt like being backstage at a ‘One Direction’ concert with an over excited group of girls, myself and the boys made our way back to the minibus with the bundles of science stuff we had collected. Incidentally, we were running twenty minutes late as Tom Gardiner and his accomplice had got stuck in the Cosmosphere gazing at the stars (typical!).

On the way home some of the boys kindly helped me complete a few levels on one of my ipad games I had been struggling to figure out. (Kids these days are far too good at computer games!)

Furthermore, a few of us chatted about the lecture and the excellent Dr Chris Lintott. He had given us many thought provoking descriptions of our place in the universe.

But most importantly, I think each of us for the briefest moment pondered a somewhat beautiful, yet (some would say) inconsequential thought while of on our little minibus, trundling along the A1079 back to Beverley…


…just what or who is out there in the vastness of our universe?

Mr Scott