In the ranks of inspirational evenings, last night’s Eckersley lecture, given by Professor Tony Readhead of Caltech, will be up there in pole position. His talk, on Cosmology with the Microwave Background Radiation, was about, well, the universe – or the multiverse, if you are of that school (of chaotic inflationary cosmology which postulates the idea that our universe is but a speck within a multiverse).
Basing much of his talk on the most recent results from the Planck Space Mission and outlining his own work with developing state-of-the-art instrumentation, Tony took us back to the findings which indicate what was happening a mere 380,000 years after Big Bang. Great teachers, like great poets, have the ability to help audience’s understand the stupendous through analogy, so we were engaged with images as various as croutons in soup and questions such as “are we seeing merely dust on the windscreen or are we seeing the birth of the universe?” when deliberating on how to interpret the findings from Planck.
As with other great talks, this one delighted in the interconnectedness of things: man’s urge to create art linked to the timespan of the universe, for example. Perhaps above all, even for those of us for whom the higher reaches of science were outside our ken, we were caught in Tony’s lifelong wonder at the beauty of it all in, in particular, John Archibald Wheeler’s comment; “This is our universe, our museum of wonder and beauty, our cathedral.”
Tony dedicated his lecture to Kadian Harding, whose short time at Bedales was marked by this kind of wonder and enquiry. The lecture finished with a picture of the beautiful Kadian observatory and these exhortations side by side:
“Walk whichever way you want.” (Kadian Harding) “Make no mean plans.” (George Ellen Hale, Founder of Caltech)
Pictured: Bedales 6.1 science student Naveed Khalessi, who built the Kadian Observatory, shaking hands with Professor Anthony Readhead.
Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.