Protons for Breakfast 1000!

Seeing the light.

Seeing the light. A visitor uses a spectrometer to study the light from a fluorescent lamp. Is this the one thousandth person to attend the Protons for Breakfast Course at NPL? And who is that beautiful lady helping him?

At the start of November, we began the 15th presentation of Protons for Breakfast at NPL. And somewhere in the audience was the one thousandth person to attend the course. Wow! That is quiet an achievement. However, I still feel the course is alive and developing rather than merely ‘clocking’ people through. Thinking about now, I find it hard to know what I like best about the course.

First of all, there is the basic event – people coming to NPL and listening to a lecture – then discussing basic physics and doing experiments – it represents community involvement in Science in a way that most scientific institutions only dream of. And its focus on establishing a continuing dialogue with adults is still quite unusual.

Secondly, there is the chance for me to meet so many staff from around NPL who volunteer their time to help. I am profoundly grateful to have such colleagues who are the diametric opposite of merchant bankers. They are people who love what they do and want to communicate it, and who give up their time to do it. They are gold dust mixed with diamonds.

Thirdly, I get to answer people’s questions. Now in some way this is an imposition – it takes around 6 or 7 hours each weekend. But in another way I feel honoured that people open up enough to ask the basic questions about science that are on their mind. And I enjoy the challenge to trying to answer the questions fully, but succinctly.

Finally, reading peoples’  insightful questions re-doubles my conviction that it is possible for people to gain a meaningful appreciation of physics without having to study mathematics. I agree that mathematics is a necessity for a professional physicist, but IMHO a physicist who cannot explain a  physics idea without mathematics simply hasn’t understood the idea themselves.

P.S.  Regarding the picture at the head of the article I can exclusively disclose that ‘that is no lady – that is my wife!

What secrets lie hidden in the spectrum of a candle?

What secrets lie hidden in the spectrum of a candle?



3 Responses to “Protons for Breakfast 1000!”

  1. Emma Says:

    I had professors at university who felt that if they had written the equations on the board they had explained the physics. I think some people do think that way and for them the maths did explain it all. My mind worked differently from theirs and it usually took a long time before I felt I’d understood it. Their attitude was summed up when I went to the graduation ceremony and a professor said to me: “I don’t understand why you did the experimental options, you were good enough to do theory.” (Actually, I probably wasn’t 😉

  2. Stephanie Says:

    Reportedly said by Einstein: “It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid.”

  3. protonsforbreakfast Says:

    That’s a good point, I will try that in the future – if my wife let’s me chat to some barmaids 🙂

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