The Alchemist Cafe

I gave a talk on Wednesday evening at the Science Gallery in Trinity College Dublin, as part of the Alchemist Cafe series. It was great to be back at the Gallery, I’ve fond memories of participating in the RAW debates there last year (see blog posts on the debates here).

The Alchemist Cafe is the Irish branch of the international Cafe Scientifique movement: the idea is to get a scientist or engineer to give an informal talk on a scientific topic in a cafe/bar setting, with plenty of questions and discussion afterwards. You can find abstracts and videos of previous talks on their website above.

I gave a short spiel titled ‘The Big Bang: Fact or Fiction?”. I thought it would be fun to go over the three basic planks of evidence for the model and then discuss some modern results (from the accelerating universe to WMAP measurements of the cosmicrowave background). The rest of the session was given over to questions and discussion.

It seemed to work well, I thought the Science Gallery cafe a particularly good setting. One whole side of the cafe is a glass window onto the street and we projected the images I used onto the opposite wall, with the audience in between. It made for a nice relaxed atmosphere.

The Naughton Institute and the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

al caf 1

Photos courtesy of The Alchemist Cafe

There were plenty of good questions, on topics as diverse as unified field theory and dark energy. I wish I’d taken note of the questions, must check with the organisers if someone did. Turnout was a big surprise – a few friends turned up at 8.05 and couldn’t get in! It’s amazing the public interest in cosmology, I guess everyone has heard of the Big Bang and Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.

All in all, it was a great experience. There will be a video of the event on the Alchemist Cafe site in a few days and I’ve uploaded the slides I used on the My Seminars page.

P.S. The Gallery is currently exhibiting INFECTIOUS, an excellent show on the spread of infectious diseases: well worth seeing and highly relevant given the news on swine flu…


Filed under Public lectures, Science and society

7 responses to “The Alchemist Cafe

  1. Diarmuid Brannick

    Hey Cormac you did a superb job, me and my buddy Philly loved it! And it was truly excellent to see an academic understand the value of the most important sentance in the universe ‘I don’t know’ when they are asked something they don’t know…hope you will do more talks soon!!

    One ?, If objects with mass effect spacetime, is the opposite true: does space time shape objects? or effect their shape?

  2. cormac

    Many thanks Diarmuid! Feedback is so important, you’d be amazed how few people ever think to comment..

    Re: Can spactime shape objects?
    Err..I don’t know!! One hears that matter/energy can distort spacetime, and that spacetime can cause matter to move – but to shape matter? I presume it can if it’s distorted enough, but don’t really know. Will have to look it up…

  3. diarmuid

    This is an open notepad, any errors are necessary for the trip— So I am in my parents home, and was reading this book that I bought yesterdayMaybe you should get it too? …Reading the first chapter, I put down the book and was pulled into a light sleep. When I woke up a short time later I came upon a description of Binary. I will present the texture of my thinking with a quote about Leibnitz (the dude that is credited with ‘inventing’ calculus alongside the english guy that we have all heard of Newton)….”Leibnitz saw in his binary arithmetic the image of creation..he imagined that Unity represented God, and Zero the void;..”Maths describing spiritual ideas: not sure if they teach that in school? so here is what happened to me when I started thinking about binary…I thought:a system of two and then a continous cycle to represent infinite variations, — in a world where you only have two numbers I.e. 1 and 0, then to represent the other larger amounts that appear in our world (a flock of birds emigrating or a group of chicks going into a club) we have to combine 1’s and 0’s in different sequences to represent larger amounts the same way we combine numbers 0 – 9 in different sequences to represent numbers larger than 9 in our way of doing it….now think about this: hydrogen has one electron, its the simplest element in the universe and within the hellishly hot heat of a star, these hydrogen’s fuse together and create Helium which has two electrons and then you can imagine what happens from there……The above is the periodic ‘table’ of elements in a spiral form. So here in this frame we can look at ‘binary’. hydrogen the element that has just one electron ultimately comes from an unknown place, a type of void, a type of zero. From that hydrogen atom that has one electron all others emerge as is illustrated in the diagram above….flying way into the future and away from distant stars we find these elements washed up on earthWe call ourselves ‘Humans’ and we are made of Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur, Sodium….get the picture? We are a string of elements, and all those elements differ from each with regards to the number of electrons and protons etc therefore they can all be represented in binary: in ones and zeros. A pattern emerges at every level we look, for exampleThe Waxing and Waning of the Lightday (1) night (0) summer (1) winter (0) sun (1) moon (0), earth (1) Water (0) fire (1) wind (0)……that quote again: “Leibnitz saw in his binary arithmetic the image of creation”I recommend that you give this some thought….

  4. diarmuid

    oops tried to put in HTML there and it got splogged! was hoping you could critique this idea!! will email it to you

  5. Hi Cormac,

    Would have loved to have been there for this talk. Your talks back in WIT were always interesting and inspiring.

  6. cormac

    Hey Venet, hows it goin? Thanks for the comps! Off to a summer school on science and philosophy in Cambridge on Sunday, can’t wait to see how the real experts do it…