everything + nothing: the oh my god particle

First: this is a real photo. I know, because I took it.

I haven't doctored anything, apart from making the colour more blue, and you'll see the original, below. But first, a story. (There's always a story).

It was October 2010, and I was still doing street style, and I was doing a shoot with my husband in Hyde Park. We stumbled upon these strange creatures in the park: surreal mirrored surfaces, by one of our favourite artists, Anish Kapoor. And then, lo and behold, there he was! There was a crew filming a documentary, and he was talking, and I was shooting, and then my husband noticed something that no one else did, including the crew.

It had rained, you see, and then the sun came out, and the reflection was creating steam rising, reflecting and hitting the light just so: it almost looked like a fire was starting:

So we told Anish what was happening, and he was so delighted he started explaining it for the cameras. And I snapped away, and later, when I sent it to Sandy, on a producer at Furnace Television, who were making the show, he sent a lovely thank you, except he explained that, uh, that wasn't Anish Kapoor, the artist who had made the giant sculptures, but rather, Professor Jim Al-Khalili. A delightful man, who made the most amazing show ('everything + nothing') for the BBC, and then, who was asked to describe the significance of the recent news, that the Higgs Boson particle - the 'God particle' really does exist.

And actually, because I don't know quite what I'm talking about - but I really want to learn - you're better off clicking here, on the BBC site, to hear him say it better himself.

I remember, several years ago, during one of my many visits for tea with my friend Dennis, a lovely widower in his 80s - a good friend and neighbour of Major Bobby, who we lost last winter - and he was talking about Cern. So when we were watching the news and seeing the Professor Higgs - who reminds me so much of Dennis - I had to call him, and see what he thought.

'Well, it's all very exciting,' he said, 'but it's not really my area. I'm not an electro physicist.'

'But you're the closest to an electro physicist that I know, hence my calling.'

He giggled.

(Actually, Dennis - Dr. Dennis McMullan - only invented the electron microscope. Actually - I discovered that once when, curious what his area was, I googled him. And then the next time I saw him I asked him about it, and he had said, in typical modest fashion, 'Actually, it was my mentor (at Cambridge) who built it, but, ah, you see, he couldn't get it to work.'
So his graduate student figured it out.)

And what fascinates me is - there is no way of measuring how many lives have been saved as a result of a professor and his student creating an electron microscope in Cambridge, all those years ago. In recent years, it might well have been test results using that same microscope that helped care for his wife before she died, or help him with his health now. 

And as I saw a scientist explain on TV that night - it might have even been Professor Al-Khalili - look at how we can watch television now, how we can use satellites and the internet, and all because of the discovery of the particle known as the electron - something that they weren't quite sure what use there was for.

So this Higgs Boson particle: we have no idea how this will change the future. All I know is, Federer just won at Wimbledon, and the sun's come out, and how can any of this be a bad thing.

My dad - an avid tennis player, and professor of early childhood science education, author of books like Teaching Science Through Discovery -  would love this. Whenever something wonderful happened, as a girl, I'd say it was like magic, but he'd smile and say, 'no, it's science'. So when the news was announced, I just looked at his photo and we smiled. Bit of both.


Phyllisa said...

Please thank Dennis for the SEM ! I would not have been able to complete my Ph.D. In archaeology without him! Very cool to know a real person was behind the invention.

jill said...

I certainly will, Phyllisa! It's funny: I can never get him to talk about it, it's like pulling teeth. He is SO humble, so sweet.

And here's a wild part: besides that I personally love archaeology, his wife - who I didn't meet because sadly she died before I met Dennis - has decorated their home with the most amazing artifacts. All my taste (and my husband's): St Ives Cornish pottery, modern art from the 60s and 70s, everything in neutral materials and shades of blue.. rocks and pottery everywhere, beautifully arranged, and when I ask him the stories behind it, he doesn't know. She was a teacher, but I feel she was a kindred spirit.

Actually.. whoever you are - and I hope you're reading this - I'm going to photograph his home, for you. Thank you for stopping by. I'd love to hear where you are and will be working.

Stephanie Clayton said...

This is incredible, Jill...I can't completely figure out the images with the mirrored art and water vapor, and that makes them more intriguing and beautiful. And the sculptures...I will have to look up Anish Kapoor.
Speaking of beautiful, I adore these photos of you. Please continue to put portraits of yourself on the blog. It adds such a personal touch (plus it's neat to see what you're wearing).

LeahB said...

Holy phenomenal pictures!! My goodness, I could stare at that top one forever.

I'm excited about the god-particle, although to be honest I wish they had named it something else. I heard on the news it was a pretty arbitrary name to give it and rather misleading. But, new discoveries are certainly always very exciting... can't deny that! We can't even begin to imagine what these findings will lead to.
The world just keeps changing and changing, faster and faster as time marches on.... Hang on everybody!!

The Foolish Aesthete said...

These images are fantastic, as fantastic as the confirmation of the Higgs Boson is.

I've been fascinated with the CERN ever since I became aware of particle physics (science geek as a kid, and always wanted to be a physicist on top of being a ballerina and a whole list of other things). A good friend's dad is a physicist at the Tevatron Collider in Illinois-- built before the CERN and would have been the biggest collider had US budget cuts not stalled development. I am secretly jealous at what she got to see on "Take Your Kids to Work Day". (She, and all her siblings, are accomplished scientists as well.) Now I'm practically envious of your conversations with these esteemed gentlemen in the field!

By the way, I love your slim coat in the photo. I didn't realize until later that it was a reflection off that shiny surface, like a Hall of Mirrors! And still can't get over how special-effect-cool your first image is, made even more wondrous by having no special effects.

Anyway, like you, I have no problem with magic and science co-existing! -- J xxx

Matthew Spade said...

what a great post. i really couldn't work out what the first image was a first, it looked quite out of this world. it was very much in our world in the end ay. great story though, you seem to know everyone!

Clazzerati said...

Jill, I haven't stopped by your blog for some time now. no reason why, just busy with work i guess. But every time I do i'm amazed at how your words and stories effect me. Your experiences with life resonate so much...sometimes just your talking about the little things in life, things others don't even notice. And then when you talk about friends and family you have lost, the pain feels so raw, but yet you continue to enjoy all life has to offer. Anyway, just wanted to say thank you for your words, and stories. I enjoy reading them, and feel strangely different after, like i've learnt a small lesson that I can take with me. Anyway, thank you x

Veshoevius said...

Wonderful photos and wonderful story! Physics was my favourite subject at school and Mr V studied it at University - it is an amazing and fascinating science and the Higgs Boson discovery is pretty awesome in terms of how far we've come.

Pearl said...

This is a very weird thing to say as I could actually have wrote the first comment. I used ESEM for my PhD in forensic archaeology LOL! I was actually filmed using the instrument for a TV documentary. I also went to the recent Kapoor exhibition at Manchester art gallery and made a similar mistake thinking the guide was the artist. Strange world this is!!

jill said...

Okay, I'm really spooked now. REALLY.

Ever since I read in the Times today that this weather is caused from the polar ice caps melting.. the sky really is falling, Pearl. Life is getting very surreal.

Jess in Fashion Limbo said...

Love what you're wearing in these pics :) Spending my birthday at the boring souless office, but cheering myself marvelling at your recent posts. London looks GORGEOUS through your lens xxxxx

Jess in Fashion Limbo said...

Love how you look in these pics, love what you're wearing. Cheering myself up on my birthday, at the saaaaad office, but your recent posts are amazing, and London looks GORGE through your camera's lense xxxx