Dark Matter Detectors and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials

Fifteen years ago, I was a postgraduate physics student at Oxford, working on a dark matter search experiment, when I first read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Material’s trilogy. It was quite a thrill when I reached the part where Lyra walks into our lab to learn what it is, and how we search for it. Here is my perspective on that scene in this epic fantasy.


Life, Particle Physics, and Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is something I have lived with all my life. To mark CMT Awareness Month, here is a particle physicist’s description of the condition. I tell my story of the distracting problems I have had with my hands and feet while I was working on the search for dark matter and building instruments to explore the interactions of fundamental particles.

Popular Science Books and University Admissions

We are now approaching the time of year when thousands of teenagers are fretting about university admissions, dreaming about an exciting future, and perhaps already drafting personal statements to put on application forms. Many will list the books they have read that have inspired them to opt for physics, chemistry, archaeology and anthropology, or whatever. But what books will most impress an admissions tutor? This is a simple question, but as I will try to explain, a full answer is not as simple as a list of titles.

3D Dreams: A Tale of a Science Communication Adventure with the Welsh Animation Industry, which didn’t happen

The story of how I set out with a small animation production company on a project to make a series of short 3D films, where our CGI characters would visit astroparticle physics experiments around the world: exploring gamma-ray astronomy in the Namib desert, dark matter searches in a deep underground laboratory, and balloon-borne neutrino detectors flown over the Antarctic ice. This promised to be an epic SciComm adventure, but we didn’t get funded.

Explaining Nucleosynthesis with Lego

One of the most successful props I have used at outreach events is the “Build Your Own Universe” Lego kits produced by QMUL. These are incredibly simple—the kit just consists of a bag of red and yellow Lego bricks. But this is all you need to explain primordial and stellar nucleosynthesis—that is, how the atoms…