Today, I happened to be attending an AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) meeting at the University of Manchester, where one of the big themes was ‘Science in Culture’; on the same day what is probably one of the most significant scientific events in my lifetime was announced – the virtual certainty of the discovery of the Higgs boson. The 7.5 billion Euro cost of the Large Hadron Collider is now starting to look like a very good investment – it’s roughly equivalent to the UK’s contribution to the Iraq war.
The LHC has done something else too – it has captured the public imagination: it was the LHC which originally propelled Brian Cox to media stardom, and in my twitter feed you an find a link to an audioboo of his take on the discovery of the Higgs boson. This is a good example of what we were discussing at the AHRC meeting as “Science in Culture” – the way science can form a part of daily discourse. It’s what public works of art used to do, and still do occasionally. When Elbow performed with the Halle at the Bridgewater Hall in the Manchester International Festival, it was a bigger event than just the sum of its parts – it was a symbolic reconciliation of two sides of Mancunian culture. Recently they performed at Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank. I wish I’d been at that gig – there’s something grand about the scale on which Elbow songs operate, very suitable for the setting.
We need big public events like this which celebrate big themes, and it’s one of the jobs university people like me can do. It’s what we tried to do a couple of years ago in my scientific oratorio “Wonder“, and you can bet someone will be out there right now commissioning the Higgs boson oratorio!