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Physics and guitars collide to make a big bang in schools

Rock guitars, superstrings, 11 dimensions and the world’s largest and highest energy particle accelerator are the lead instruments for the Institute of Physics’ loudest schools lecture to date.

“Rock in 11 dimensions: where physics and guitars collide” is an exciting, interactive and inspiring free talk for school students throughout the UK, building on everyday physics to explain groundbreaking research.

The 2008 Schools and College Lecture, aimed at 14-16 year old students, will reveal the secrets behind the distinctive sounds of rock guitars and how string vibrations might answer the big questions about the Big Bang.

But in his mind-expanding and ear-stimulating show, acoustics physicist Dr Mark Lewney, this year’s presenter, has more than simple entertainment in mind when he straps on his Ibanez Sabre rock guitar and leaps onto the stage.

“If you understand string vibrations you can appreciate music with both your head and your heart. And understanding the fundamentals of the universe as well is a massive bonus!” said Mark, a science presenter who works at the UK Intellectual Property Office in Newport.

Mark is already used to combining physics and rock. He won the first FameLab competition at the Cheltenham Science Festival in 2005 (an “X Factor for scientists”), following years of research into guitar physics at Cardiff University. Since then, he has made many appearances on TV and radio, including “The Physics of Rock Guitar” on Channel 4 and as “the Rock Doctor” on Children’s BBC.

As well as demonstrating the physics of rock guitar and showing how the vibrations of guitar strings form the basis of String Theory, he’ll introduce students to the biggest experiment ever built – the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland and explain why the science community is so excited about what might happen once they press the “on” button later this year.

The LHC will let us glimpse what the universe was like in its first trillionth of a second and may even help us discover the origins and nature of matter. “It might even find the “hidden dimensions” of String Theory, but there’s plenty to be excited about even if it doesn’t,” said Mark.

“Everyone should be excited to live at a time when this experiment is so new and we’re entering such unknown territory. People in future will say, ‘Wow! Imagine living back then!’”

But while CERN’s experiments are expected to bring major technological advances in superconductivity and computation, Mark says they are also important for the role they will play in exploring the fabric of the universe and understanding the very deepest questions of our existence and the universe’s beginnings, such as where its mass came from and where most of it mysteriously disappeared to.

Charlie Wallace | alfa
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