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Beautiful Minds

This new BBC4 series of three programmes gives us a whole hour on each of three important scientific figures.

The first episode featured Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the real discoverer of pulsars. This gentle, unassuming lady managed to be extraordinarily impressive - as is the story of how she stood her ground at every stage of her career: from studying Physics at her boarding school; through insisting of doing the same at university despite being the only woman in her classes; to pursuing her study of pulsars despite the idea being dismissed by her supposed intellectual superiors.

I need to watch the programme again before writing about it in detail. However, two things stand out in my memory from a first viewing:

  1. A wonderfully clear explanation of the current theory about the observed behaviour of the universe, which appears to be expanding not at a steady velocity but at an accelerating one, a phenomenon currently explained with the idea of dark energy;
  2. A more general point about science: that scientists should never claim to have the ultimate solution to any problem - only the best theory currently available.

Meanwhile, you can find out more about Professor Bell Burnell in an excellent Wikipedia article.

What I found really refreshing about this programme was that the BBC hadn?t sent Professor Bell rushing round the world, as they did with Profs Jim Al-Khalili and Brian Cox, wasting vast amounts of money - and, frankly, programme time - on fairly irrelevant chunks of travelogue. In Beautiful Minds we had interviews and odd bits of library film - and an awful lot more useful information.

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