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Meet the people’s professor, Brian Cox!

Traditionally science hasn’t been particularly ‘cool’ but thanks to Professor Brian Cox, things, or should I say particles, have changed! We had the pleasure of talking life and space with the unique Professor of Particle Physics himself for our Summer edition of Noticed magazine!

Cox was born and brought up in Oldham. His parents both worked in the local bank and family pursuits included, dance, gymnastics and bus and plane spotting. Despite getting a D in his A Level Maths, the gene pool pointed towards a career in the sciences, helped by his fascination with the book Cosmos by Carl Sagan. “I was interested in astronomy but hadn’t realised it was a science. I was given a pair of binoculars aged six and loved looking at the night sky. I was lucky that I then made the connection of astronomy with science. Because of this, Physics was always my favourite subject at school.”

After leaving school, Cox studied Physics at the University of Manchester at the same time that his music career started to take off. “I was big into electronic music like OMD possibly because I was interested in the technology behind it.”

As the keyboard player for the band Dare he released two albums before joining D:Ream who had several hits including ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ famously used for the New Labour election anthem.

This love of music is a thread that runs consistently through most things in his life. When discussing his exciting new arena tour, Horizons: a 21st Century Space Odyssey, Cox emphasises the importance of the music to the overall impact of the show.

Following a break from music and the band aged 18, Cox took time to really think about which career path he wanted to follow. Then at 23 years old he went back to university – “I took a wandering route through music and back to Physics again.” On the back of this, his advice is “don’t worry if you don’t know what you want to do, things will fall into place”. And fall into place they did, following work on various different scientific projects, the BBC became interested in the HERA experiment and interviewed Cox about it. “I fell into it completely but accidentally. The one thing I had was a conviction that it mattered.” This passion translated well on screen and even today Cox believes “that our society will be improved and function better if more people have an understanding of what science is”.

Cox’s latest venture is his world tour Horizons: a 21st Century Space Odyssey. It is a dazzling cinematic journey which explores the nature of space and time, how life began, and what it means to be human in this universe. The Tour, currently playing in the States runs until the Autumn when it returns here.

The show opens with some powerful classical music (Sibelius 5th symphony, 3rd movement) and awe inspiring graphics. Cox believes that this music is “the most majestic exploration of the beauty of nature with a mystical element that celebrates the wonder of our universe”.

As with his career, there is a synergy between music and the sciences. “They are both responses to the world, and help to answer a key question that I raise during the show which is ‘what does it mean to live a finite fragile life in an infinite eternal universe?’ Music can sometimes answer these questions better than me and it’s part of the conversation not just wallpaper.”

This quest for knowledge and understanding of the universe and our place within it can be narrowed down to the basics of having an ‘interest’ in what’s around you. Indeed, Cox’s advice for budding young scientists is to “be interested” and then as “you try and discover the answers to your questions you need perseverance as understanding is hard won. Don’t ever think you are not good at something because you don’t understand it. No-one is good at things magically, it needs hard work, determination and practice.”

Cox has done for science what Attenborough has done for nature. Both legends in their field and responsible for bringing the world and its complexities to our lives and our TV screens. Cox is the ideal role model for the next generation of budding scientists and has transformed many of the big scary life questions into relatable and debatable topics. In short “Things Can Only Get Better…”

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