Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Top quarks

I managed to confuse the first person I met at the NAWE conference last week. We had both arrived quite early, so we nipped off for a cup of tea in a rather charming cafe inside the bridge, and I mentioned that I had studied at York University. She'd asked who my lecturers were and I'd been thinking aloud a little, saying 'well, for algebra, we had...' She stopped me. 'Algebra?' People just don't expect to meet a writer and find out her first degree was in mathematics. But I am not an isolated case.

Take the lovely Tania Hershman, master of the very short form prose. If you haven't read her yet, then you need to. I've known Tania online for years, and teach her stories to my students, but we met properly for the first time at the conference last weekend. I knew that she was interested in Science and stories, and had written for the New Scientist, but I didn't realise that her first degree had been in Maths and Physics.

David Morley talked a little about being a scientist and a writer in his keynote speech at the conference.  He told us that he asks his students to take modules in maths, science, philosophy, other disciplines that might inform their practice. It made me want to be eighteen again, so I could do his course. And I've wanted to be eighteen again for quite some time, anyway, so that I could do my own course.

Like everyone else in The World, I've been following news of the Large Hadron Collider in CERN. I've posed the question; is what they've found recently just maths or something more real? Is it a model that fits or do we know somehow that these particles exist? I asked Brian Cox on twitter but he didn't get back to me. I'm sure he gets all sorts of crazies so I understand. But I'd really like to know!

At times, this article in The New Scientist seems to confirm my suspicions that the Higgs Boson is part of a model that matches the maths. In other places, I'm sensing the implication of real particles that actually, you know, exist. If there's anyone out there who knows the truth, please explain! Meanwhile, I am loving the concept of Top Quarks and Sparticles. The more I read about particle physics the more two things strike me. 1. It is *very* complicated 2. the language is more creative than you'd find in your average short story.

As Morely asserted at NAWE 'all writing is creative' and 'at the top levels of research in science, you have to make words up to explain what you're seeing, and what's more creative than that?' I am paraphrasing dreadfully, and apologies to Mr Morely for my far less eloquent rendition of the points he made. Still, interesting, innit? I think so, anyway.

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