Six Characters in Search of a Blogger

10.3 Former Boy Band Member + Astrophysics = Dr. Brian Cox

Thanks to this week’s Special Guest Author, Iain B.  (my husband)

Dr. Brian Cox

Dr. Brian Cox

A personal ad for Dr. Brian Cox might look something like this:  

“Good looking former member of successful boy-band seeks fellow Ph.D. for cozy nights in studying particle physics, the origins of life, the universe and everything.”

We seem to be seeing a lot of Dr. Cox in TV and online media recently. Apple used him to promote the use of Macbook Pro laptops for “serious power computing users,” and he’s a regular on Discovery/PBS/National Geographic documentaries. But those are far from being his first forays into the limelight.

“Things Can Only Get Better” was the song title of what was perhaps his most well-known previous public work, as a keyboardist in the 90s boy band D:Ream–famous for its rather questionable punctuation practices and its slightly more than a one-hit-wonder status in the UK.  (The “Things Can Only Get Better” track was used in 1997 as the UK Labour Party conference anthem, when Labour Party beat the incumbent Conservatives and brought Tony Blair into power.)

But Dr. Cox is a boy band member no more. Like the greek god Proteus, he has reinvented himself as an astrophysicist. Now he is a serious researcher doing serious research into serious physics and serious astronomy. He gets to travel the world to conferences and hang out with all the “big boys toys” – the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN for example, and the ATLAS project in particular.

Most people will have heard of the LHC by now, but probably in a negative way–as the “the search for the God particle,” or “the black hole-making machine,” or “the expensive machine that blew up the first time it was used,” or “the experiment that could end the world.”  But actually the LHC is a collection of separate experiments all built around the perimeter of the particle accelerator itself, with ATLAS being the largest single part.

ATLAS, itself, is the detector at the very core of the LHC, and is the single largest man-made experiment in particle physics ever. The scale of this thing is truly staggering–it weighs 7000 tons and is about quarter of a city block in size–but what it’s looking for is incredibly small: the Higgs boson particle.  First theorized in the early 1960s, the Higgs boson has yet to be actually found and observed; but it is thought to be the possible source of dark matter, dark energy, and the underlying binding force in the whole universe.  For something so small, it sure has a large reputation to live up to.

So good luck with ATLAS, Dr. Cox.  For sure, it’s about as sexy a job as we “geeks in white coats” can possibly aspire to. But the thing is, underneath it all we know you’re still the pretty boy with a nice smile and a good sense of humor from those halycon boy band days.  And what’s great is that you might not even have to leave your musical roots behind you in your new line of work.  It looks like you could branch out into some hip hop collaborations with your new colleagues, given the success of their “Large Hadron Rap” (see YouTube video below.)  We live in hope!

Apologies to faithful reader Alison for any false advertising in this post–the author has since discovered that Dr. Brian Cox has been married since 2004.


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