10 Things You Need to Know About the Conservatives’ Health & Care Bill Read here

Every bestselling author has been rejected multiple times. Harry Potter was rejected by 15 publishers before J. K. Rowling got her break at Bloomsbury… Here are some of my thoughts on dealing with rejection

1.GALILEO THOUGHT SATURN WAS A PLANET WITH… EARS

Changing views of Saturn (Credit: Damian Peach)

Galileo was a giant in the history of science, discovering among other things that a swinging pendulum keeps perfect time and that bodies, no matter what their mass, fall at exactly the same rate under gravity. But undoubtedly one of his career low-points was when he turned his new-fangled telescope on Saturn and  claimed it was… a planet with ears. The next year he decided planet had two big moons – one on either side. But the year after that the two moons vanished altogether. Galileo died totally baffled. The mystery was only solved 50 years later when Christiaan Huygens made a bigger telescope and realised, correctly, that Saturn was girdled by a system of rings. As Saturn orbits the Sun, rings change their orientation as seen from Earth. When they are edge-on, they appear to vanish altogether. And, when they appear at an angle to the line of sight, they do indeed look like ears.

 

 

 

2.NEWTON WAS BAFFLED BY THE CONCEPT OF A CATFLAP

Probably you know that Newton was famously bad-tempered. Probably you know that he had long-running and bitter feuds with other scientists of his day. But maybe you don’t knowthat he really loved his cat. And, to let that cat in and out of his study, he cut a hole in his study door – a kind of 17th-century cat flap without the flap. But then his cat had kittens. So Newton cut a whole row of small holes, one for each kitten. Can you believe that? Greatest super-genius of all time and he didn’t realise that the kittens could have all fitted through the big hole! (I should say I have read this anecdote in only one place – The Great Physicists from Galileo to Einstein by George Gamow, Dover, New York, 1988).

 

 

 

3. MARIE CURIE’S NOTEBOOKS CAN BE READ AT MIDNIGHT DURING A POWER CUT

Marie Curie’s notebooks are classed as “intermediate nuclear waste” and kept in lead-lined boxes in Paris. It seems her fingers were so impregnated with radium and polonium that everything she touched was too. In fact, if you were to put a photographic plate against one of her notebook pages and develop it, you would see her fingerprints gradually swimming into view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. ROBERT BUNSEN BLEW HIS EYE OUT WHILE EXPERIMENTING WITH ARSENIC

Robert was Bunsen was a German chemist who actually didn’t invent the Bunsen burner; he just added a small modification. But, when you’re famous, people name things after you – even if you had nothing to do with them. What Bunsen liked more than anything in the world was experimenting with evil-smelling, noxious, toxic chemicals. He even blew his eye out while experimenting with arsenic. But, even though he lived his life in a fog of offensive vapours, by all accounts the one-eyed Bunsen was a very nice man. He was kind to small animals and children and always gave up his seat to old ladies on the horse-drawn omnibus. In fact, the wife of the famous German chemist, Emil Fischer, said of him: “First, I would like to wash him, then I would like to kiss him, because he’s such a lovely man.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.WHEN THE LIGHT FROM FARTHEST KNOWN GALAXY BEGAN ITS JOURNEY TO EARTH, THE UNIVERSE WAS LESS THAN A TENTH OF A PER CENT ITS CURRENT SIZE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. YOU ARE BORN 100 PER CENT HUMAN BUT DIE 50 PER CENT ALIEN

A whopping 50 per cent of the cells in your body do not belong to you. These are microorganisms including gut bacteria, without which you could not digest your food. You get them from your mother and from the environment and most are acquired by the age of three. In fact, it is worse than this. The microorganisms that inhabit your body have a total of at least 8 million genes whereas the human genome contains a mere 23,000. You therefore have about 400 times as many microbial genes exerting their effect on your body as human genes. You are born 100 per cent human but die 99.75 per cent alien!

 

 

This year is the 150th birthday of my Italian publisher, Hoepli. And Barbara Hoepli, Chairman of the Board, kindly invited me to join the celebrations of this milestone at the Milan Planetarium – which is celebrating its 90th birthday – and give the keynote speech on 11 November. Sadly, despite the heroic efforts of Barbara, Letizia Di Girolamo, Lisa Ceccarelli and others at Hoepli, the Covid-19 pandemic prevented me from travelling from London to Milan. I therefore had to record my talk on “The Voice of Space”, which was broadcast on YouTube after speeches from dignitaries from Milan, Hoepli and the Planetarium. You can see my talk here. It begins at about 40 minutes in.

Barbara Hoepli, Chair of the Board of Hoepli, introduces the 150th birthday celebrations in front of the Planetarium’s Zeiss Projector

HOEPLI-CATALOGO GENERALE 150° 2020

 

Milan Cathedral in the time of Covid

Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper”

 

 

 

 

Did you feel queasy on 14 September 2015? If you did, it was probably something you ate (!) because the stretching and squeezing caused by the passage of gravitational waves was TINY.

We have yet to detect the gravitational wave equivalent of a baby crying (You’d have to be there to understand where I was going with that!)

The discovery of gravitational waves earnt the 2017 Nobel Prize for three of the scientists involved

Although the discovery of gravitational waves was deemed worthy of the Nobel Prize, some thought it was worthy of the X-Files. According to one man: “They’re building a time machine”!

One arm of the time machine goes to the future, the other to the past.”! (LIGO is amazing but not THAT amazing)

In an instant, 3 times the mass of the Sun vanished and reappeared as a tsunami of tortured space-time, spreading outwards at the speed of light

For some reason we do not understand, there is a “supermassive” black hole in the heart of EVERY galaxy. The race is on to detect gravitational waves from their mergers.

The skin of a bongos, here played by American physicist, are easy to vibrate. But space-time is a billion billion billion times stiffer than steel. That’s why it’s so hard to vibrate and create gravitational waves.

Wave your hand in the air. You have just created gravitational waves (though they are very weak)

Before they passed through the Earth on 14 September 2015, the gravitational waves had been spreading through space for 1.3 billion years

 

 

 

 

I have stood in Trafalgar Square with a solitary pigeon as a man in a yellow high-vis jacket, a Harris Harrier on his arm, patrolled between the sparkling fountains, scaring away birds from non-existent tourists… Read on

The article can also be read at https://www.rlf.org.uk/showcase/miracle-of-the-plague-year/

King Street, Covent Garden

At the finish line on what would have been 2020 London Marathon

At Paddington as ghost trains slide in and out

 

London Zoo

Bond Street

Some shops are frozen in and eternal Easter

Regents Street

Man with Harris Harrier, Trafalgar Square

At Oxford Circus, the traffic lights cycle pointlessly though red, amber and green

Everywhere in Hyde park there are crows, no longer able to take advantage of the street larder of discarded chips and half-eaten burgers

Hyde Park

 

Gerrard Street

Paddington Basin

The National Theatre

The South Bank

St Martin’s Lane

Piccadilly Circus is as empty as the Atacama Desert

Leicester Square

 

 

In Trafalgar Square with a solitary pigeon

My friend Steve Hedges zoologist, BBC producer of Pop Science and one of the two best interviewers I have known.

Fab launch of The Magicians at Daunt Books, Holland Park, London on 20 February. It’s always great to have party when a book is published. You invite hundreds in the hope you won’t be there on your own! Some people RSVP to say they are coming and for various reasons don’t come and others don’t RSVP to say they are coming and turn up. So the mix of people you get is always an amazing surprise!

With Laura, who had faith in, and commissioned, my book!

With my friend Manjit, to whom my book is dedicated. Manjit wrote the brilliant Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality.

Nettie Baker & Zara Lewis: Always supportive – and always colourful!

The F-Team: Mo, Connor & Laura. Faber is more like a family than a publisher. Where else can you walk into a reception and chat to someone who’s been there 17 years (Michelle) and someone who’s been there 27 years (Lee)?

Linda Bolton’s mum taught me when I was… 6!

Why is it so much more nerve-racking to give a speech to your friends than to an audience of 300 strangers?! (My energetic & enthusiastic agent, Felicity, is raising a glass at the front)

Spectacular flowers sent to me by the Felicity Bryan Agency!

 

 

 

 

 

With Alastair Fischer, co-leader of @NHAparty, and John Lloyd, creator of QI and midwife of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

My mate, Andy Coghlan, from New Scientist

 

 

This the story of those who demonstrated the central magic of science: its ability to predict the existence of things never before suspected which, when searched for, turn out to actually exist in the Universe. This is the story of the magicians, who not only predicted the existence of unknown worlds, black holes and unsuspected subatomic particles but antimatter, invisible waves that course through the air, and many other things besides. This is the story of the central magic of science and how it has made gods of men. To find out more, join author Marcus Chown as at Blackwell’s bookshop in Oxford at 11am on Saturday 29 February. Click here for more information

This the story of those who demonstrated the central magic of science: its ability to predict the existence of things never before suspected which, when searched for, turn out to actually exist in the Universe. This is the story of the magicians, who not only predicted the existence of unknown worlds, black holes and unsuspected subatomic particles but antimatter, invisible waves that course through the air, and many other things besides. This is the story of the central magic of science and how it has made gods of men. To find out more, join author Marcus Chown as at Blackwell’s bookshop in Oxford at 11am on Saturday 29 February. Click here for more information

Here I am at the end of 3 days at ID Audio in Queen’s Park, recording the Audiobook of The Magicians. As you can see, I am very happy! Relieved, even. I’d thought Day 3, recording the last few chapters, would be a short one. But then it turned out there had been an intermittent source of “noise” on the Day One recording and I had to do a whole load of that again. It took 10 hours! I’m certain working down a mine is a lot harder but it was exhausting, nevertheless. The only time I got out in the open air was to walk around a cemetery! (Mind you, it was an interesting cemetery, full of crumbling memorials to the Victorian great and good).

Such a weird experience – sitting in a room talking to yourself for three days, the talking punctuated only by dashes to the loo because you sip so much water to stop your mouth getting dry. Then your stomach starts rumbling – particularly before and after lunch – and you have to keep doing lines again.

Steve and Joe, the audio engineers on the other side of the glass partition, were brilliant, picking up fluffed words and re-winding the recording in real-time so I could just pick up at the point before I’d cocked things up. And so was Sarah, who made me hot lemon and ginger drinks to lubricate my throat. Don’t know if they worked but they were delicious.

Catherine Daly of Faber hung on to the bitter end, providing moral support, for which I am very grateful. Leaving the studio with her and waving her goodbye, I felt a great sense of achievement, though I was like a speechless pit pony on the 98 bus home. I hope people enjoy the Audiobook of The Magicans, out on 20 February!