A very physical Vice Chancellor
My guest this week is Professor Keith Burnett FRS, CBE Vice Chancellor of Sheffield University. Keith Burnett was the son of a butcher’s boy who believed in education. After getting qualifications in accountancy during national service, Mr Burnett decided that his son’s education should be paramount. The young Keith Burnett was inspired by experimental science at his Welsh school in Llwynypia in the Rhondda Valley.
He talks about going up to Oxford to a the Welsh Jesus college and his increasing love for physics. He stayed on at Oxford to complete his Phd and then took up an appointment in Colorada before returning to the UK at Imperial College London as a “new blood” lecurer – as I did myself. Then when he started a family he wanted to get out of London and return to Oxford where he headed up a world class atomic physics group. During this time he became a Fellow of the Royal Society (a very prestigious honour) and recieved a CBE for services to physics.
In the intervew, we discuss some of his work on vortices in depth and his enthusiasm for research is clear – he glows as he tells me some very interesting (and a little strange) theoretical ideas. But when I ask how he could have left research to move into running a large scale organisation like Sheffield University, his answers are robust and credible.
It’s the 40th anniversary of the manned moon landing
To celebrate the 40th anniversay of the moon landing, this weeks programme comes direct from a restaurant on the moon and it is is dedicated to the space race through the 1950s and 1960s that ended with two humans walking on the moon.
We start with the Soviet Sputnik 1 – the world’s first artificial satellite.
Sputnik 1, October 4 1957 began and the space race began. This meant that the Soviets could launch a ballistic missile with a hydrogen bomb on board to strike anywhere in the world.
November, 1957 -Liaka (translated from Russian as Howler or Barker) became the first animal to be sent from earth into space. She only survived a few hours (as we found out in 2000).
USA launched their first satellite Explorer 1 in January 1958
The soviets replied with an unmanned landing on the moon in September, 1959.
AND the Soviets came back by creating the world’s first Spaceman – Yuri Gagarin in April 1961
Gargarin was only in space for 108 minutes – but it was 108 minutes that changed the world.
Then on July, 20th, 1969 the US played the trump card with a manned landing on the moon.
We end the programme with a segment of J. F. Kenedy’s great speech after the moon landing – it is well worth listening to his brilliant rhetoric extolling science.
We can build you
Synthetic Biology is one of those new areas of science that attracts a lot of nonsense statements and silly questions. Are we going to reconstruct people? Is it the new Frankenstein science? Are we going to kill ourselves with manmade viruses. I decided to find out the truth about syntetic biology and what it really is. I tracked down expert Professor George Attard from the Department of Chemistry at Southampton University to get a reality check. He poured cold water on some of the fears and crazinesses and gave us clear answers about the nature and goals of Synthetic Biology.
Big Science, Big Questions
This months Cafe Scientifique package, presented by John Stratford, is on Big Science and big questions: the race to find a new physics at the Large Hadron Collider. John interviews Dr. Dan Tovey, Reader in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Sheffield.
Noel is in Granada this week – tracing the Islamic roots of Spain. He will be back next week with some new programmes. In the meantime, we have the very popular Peter W. Singer interview – author of Wired for War.
Peter W. Singer on Wired for War
Peter W. Singer is the director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative and a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at Brookings. Singer’s research focuses on three core issues: the future of war, current U.S. defense needs and future priorities, and the future of the U.S. defense system. Singer lectures frequently to U.S. military audiences and is the author of several books and articles.
I talked to him about his most recent book. Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.
This book has been highly praised by such a variety of people from National Security Advisors to TV chat show hosts like John Stewart. I thought that it was a great read – really entertainingly written for such a serious topic.
If you have been listening to the Sound of Science for a while, you will know that I am always banging on about the new military development in autonomous weapons and robots. Many of these, such as bomb disposal robots, can save soldiers and civilian lives and so they are a good thing. But many of the robots, especially in the air, are armed and designed to kill people. These are changing the face of war in an unpredictable way. There are even plans to let robots go out and kill people on their own and decide who to kill.
Well Peter Singer has been out there interviewing a lot of people from 5 star generals to the people who make the robots to the people who control them and he tells us about the disturbing things he found out.
The book is not currently in UK book shops but you can buy it from amazon.co.uk
I am on holiday this week- sort of. I have gone to investigate the old Islamic empire in Spain. I will be back in two weeks to bring you some new programmes. In the meantime I have re-edited some previous interviews that I found really interesting.
Professor Chris Cooper from the Univesity of Essex has made blood his life’s work, from the real to the artificial. If there is anything that you wanted to know about blood, this would be the man to ask. I talk to him about the very nature of blood – what is it and why is it different from sap? We talk about artificial blood, blue blood and even vampires.
A Love Machine?
For this interview I travelled to Manhattan to the Grand Central Station Oyster Bar to meet up with Dr Peter Asaro of Rutger’s University to talk about his documentary Love Machine about machines that you may fall in love with. Over a few beers, I asked Peter if he could love a robot and if he thought that a robot could ever fall in love with a human.