One of my favourite TV comedy series is The Big Bang Theory.
A group of nerds – two theoretical physicists, an astrophysicist and an engineer – live their lives coming to terms with the fact that they are academically but not ‘street’ smart.
I like the clever humour, but along the way have become fascinated by the subject of theoretical physics.
Human Universe by physicist Brian Cox may not be a funny book, but the author has a way of explaining complex things that even a dummy like me can understand.
This is the second time I have read the book and it was as good a read this time as last.
It may be that I have gained a better understanding of the way the world works, but it is the mysteries that remain that capture my imagination, along with the unanswered questions.
One of the big ones Mr Cox tries to answer is, ‘Are we alone in the Universe?’
If the answer is ‘no’ then maybe that is as frightening as if the answer is ‘yes’. If we are not alone, how might we communicate with an advanced civilisation somewhere out there?
It seems the answer lies in the commonest element in the universe: the humble hydrogen atom.
Energy released by the single electron and proton ‘spin’ relationship in the form of a photon has a measurable band width (21cm). Apparently an intelligent civilisation wanting to make contact would know this and would be looking out for our messages in that bandwidth.
Given the size of the universe and its age it may just be a question of unfortunate timing on our part.
Astrophysicist Frank Drake said of his famous equation designed to calculate the chance of there being a contactable civilisation out there: if we end up destroying ourselves before we make contact, that would be a real shame.
Mr Cox lightens the physics and the maths that go with it by relaying anecdotes of his life.
Growing up in Greater Manchester he does not seem too obsessed by the music of Joy Division, but you could be forgiven for believing that to be the case.
Nick Bamford is chairman of Informed Choice