A Scientist + Me


So what happened was: I watched COSMOS and everything changed. Throughout my life, I had been peripherally interested in astronomy, insofar as I was a massive science-fiction nerd and fully believed that one day, giant ships would descend out of the sky and our horizons would be broadened by lightyears. (I still believe that, by the way.) COSMOS took all of that and morphed it into a full blown addiction. It opened my eyes to a world that I had seldom explored further than its incredible mythology and, somehow, by the end of it all, left me moved rather closer to tears than I ever expected or anticipated science could, or would. And even though I slept through the ending of one or two of them (I’m that kind of awful person that falls asleep on the couch more or less every evening), I still felt like my world had been dramatically altered. Of course, once it was finished, more was absolutely required.

There are those brilliant moments when mutual agendas align. It was my husband’s birthday, and he was slowly but surely finding himself more caught up in the unfathomable world of space. And so that year’s birthday present was an arbitrarily selected set of documentaries called THE WONDERS COLLECTION, narrated by Professor Brian Cox who, then, was someone I had never heard of. I bought it simply because it seemed to go into great detail about the universe, the planet we live on and everything in between. Since that was the precise nature of the fix required, we started watching immediately.

Now, COSMOS will always be my number one. I love that show, y’all. But when I tell you I fell deeply and helplessly in love with Brian Cox, it won’t even be understating the matter one little bit. There’s a kind of wonder that the good professor exudes whenever he talks about his craft — it’s almost child-like, as if the excitement and awe he felt the first time he ever saw an eclipse has never, ever gone away. The way Brian Cox talks about space makes me feel like it’s magic, something out of this world and far beyond our understanding, which is slowly but surely expanding, nowhere near as quickly as it needs to if it wants to keep up. It absolutely delights him, how much we as a race know about space, and how much we don’t know. Half the joy of of THE WONDERS COLLECTION is listening to Brian Cox become breathless with happiness as he explains how gravity works.

Like any popular science show, The Wonders delves into the mysteries and majesty of the universe in a number of simple explanations, beautiful visuals and the occasional made-to-do-at-home experiment conducted by Professor Cox himself. There’s something deeply satisfying about having these massive and quite difficult concepts condensed down into a simple experiment you could construct out of things you’d find in your kitchen. Between that and all the great stories the show tells about the world we live in, Brian Cox swiftly became a bit of a household name and I once spent an enthusiastic evening watching a bunch of YouTube videos of him speaking. At one point, at the height of a collective DOCTOR WHO fan-fever that erupted on two blocks in my neighbourhood, Professor Brian Cox delivered a lecture about the various science of the show, and it was one of the best things I ever watched. There were experiments there too and it was awesome.

About a year or so later, Brian Cox brought out a book called HUMAN UNIVERSE, a gorgeous tome that narrates the human story, from atom to the furthest edges of the universe. Unlike his show, this book didn’t fuck around. There were complex equations, and explanations of the relationship between matter and its surrounds that, in the main, flew right over my head. But interwoven between all of that, in his own words, was Brian Cox’s great love for this world, and everything in it. One of the very many gifts of reading is the sense, behind the words, of the emotion that inspired them. The professor calls HUMAN UNIVERSE his ‘love letter to the human race’ and by the time I had reached the last full stop, it was difficult not to feel so much loved. By someone. Or something. By the cosmos.

The… fate-like thing, I suppose, is that Brian Cox was more or less the deciding factor in when my husband and I would move to Scotland. We’d been dilly-dallying around the decision for a couple of weeks. It was the beginning of 2016 and we were fairly certain that we wanted to move the following year. The indecision was around just when that would happen. Then, one Sunday, Stu emerged out of his weekly Skype conversation with his mother looking a little shooken. As it turned out, Professor Brian Cox would be in Edinburgh, delivering a lecture, at the beginning of May 2017. If I said that particular sequence of events didn’t have a big impact on me deciding when to leave, then I would be lying. The truth is, once Stu told me all the details, it took about a minute to decide that it was probably best, then, that we be in Edinburgh by May.

That whole departure is now just over three weeks away. Somehow, in the process of acquiring a visa (which was lengthy and riddled with anxiety), I had forgotten that I was going to watch my favourite scientist talk about his favourite thing. I never thought I would be the kind of adult who would be desperately thrilled to watch a scientist give a lecture, but here I am nonetheless, beside myself with excitement. In all honesty, I know next to nothing about the entire event. Details are irrelevent at this stage because science! Because that shit is so cool and Brian Cox is so stoked about it and you can’t help but be stoked as well, all on your own, even though you couldn’t tell a neutron from a proton if your life depended on it. (I had a brief urge to google it because yes, that’s me, but I didn’t because I am the worst.)

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