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Brian Cox on inspiration and idiocy

Confidential talks to a scientist who’s talking sense

Published on February 1st 2011.


Brian Cox on inspiration and idiocy

Brian Cox, the Manchester University professor and TV scientist, launched the new Revolution Manchester gallery at the Science and Industry Museum last week with some straight talking.

£9m is nothing in that context, a drop in the ocean. Knowledge and its acquisition and then the achievement of something extraordinary is priceless.

Several media present, such as the Daily Mail, had asked loaded questions on how £9m could be justified in creating a new museum gallery in these tough times.

Confidential asked if that way of thinking frustrated Cox.

“Yes,” he said, forcefully, “it’s a short term view, that denies the educational and inspirational potential of galleries like this. A £9m investment here can return billions of pounds to the country.”

“Tonight I’m going to the Nobel dinner for Manchester-based scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, who created graphene last year,” he continued. “The discovery of this new material may revolutionise life in a number of areas. An interest in science has to come from somewhere, museums such as this inspired me. Maybe this place will inspire another Geim and Novoselov into doing remarkable things.”

Cox pauses here for thought, “£9m is nothing in that context, a drop in the ocean. Knowledge and its acquisition and then the achievement of something extraordinary is priceless.”

Revolution Manchester includes the UK’s largest indoor video wall (50 screens) and a ‘digital chandelier’ which spans three floors of the converted 19th century railway warehouse. Collection items, most of which are displayed for the first time at MOSI, tell the story of how Manchester changed the world, from the world’s first commercial computer, to a model of ZETA (Britain’s first experiment in nuclear fusion), to the world’s first enclosed cabin monoplane. Six sections cover computing, science, engineering, energy, transport and industry.

The handsome refurbishment and rebuild, which included removing large ramps imposed in the building in the 1980s, was designed by Manchester-based architects Buttress Fuller Alsop Williams.

Back to Cox.

“I visited here as a kid,” says Cox, “and it was one of the reasons that I became a scientist, because you can have that innate interest in science - and I think virtually every child does - but you need it reinforcing, you need it to be interesting, you need to see things close up; to see those machines on which the modern world is based.”

Cox, scientist and ex-band member of D:Ream, is a good speaker, a good communicator and modest with it too.

He says, “Getting on TV gets attention from the people who make decisions. This is undeserved attention really because there are lots of other people doing valuable work who don’t get on TV.”

“I want to use the influence the media work gives me with people in government to ensure projects like this continue, that we emphasise the teaching of science. It would be idiotic if places like this didn’t continue to be funded, why would you cut away the foundation of Britain’s industrial future?”

MOSI (Museum of Science & Industry) is located on Lower Byrom Street, Castlefield, City, M3 4FP, 0161 832 2244. It is free to visit.

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