Saturday, 9 April 2011

Edinburgh International Science Festival

A review of my talk at the Edinburgh International Science Festival by Keir Liddle of The 21st Floor:

'In front of a packed auditorium Manjit Kumar takes to the stage. Behind him is displayed an image of the “first team” of physics: Einstein, Bohr, Dirac, Planck, Curie, Schrödinger, Heisenberg and the other luminaries that attended the famous Solvay conference in 1927. Arguably the greatest minds working in the field gathered together in one place. Einstein alone being the most famous and well known physicist since Newton for his theory of relativity.

This conference was a pivotal point in quantum physics and one at which quantum theories two prize-fighters, Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein, did battle with various thought experiments to test Bohrs Copenhagen interpretation. According to this interpretation of quantum physics you can only say a particle exists when you try to measure and observe it. Einstein took exception to this as he believed that the universe did not simply go away when you did not observe it.

“I like to think that the moon is there even if I am not looking at it.”

Manjit weaved together the intriguing tale of the people who were behind the biggest discoveries in the physics of the incredibly small with an affable style and a genuine affection for the subject. Too often science and scientists can appear cold, distant and removed from human endeavour and it is valuable and important that Manjit reminded us that scientists are driven by human motivations, ambitions and that there is a very human joy in exploring and understanding the fundamental principles of the universe.'


  1. Explaining quantum theory to a general audience must be the most difficult task on earth. This is inevitable because there is as yet no realist handle on the arcane concepts involved. Manjit Kumar rightly opts for philosophy to underpin our approach to the theory rather than the reverse, perhaps echoing Einstein’s view as opposed to Bohr’s. Nevertheless his historical tour through the significant developments was probably the best way to present the field to lay people from a variety of backgrounds. His heroic effort was much appreciated, and we can only hope that he will continue and apply his background in philosophy as well as physics to build a more concrete bridge between the two.

  2. Hello. I had a chance to attend your talk at the International Science Festival and I can say it was awesome. Einsten - Bohr debates is one of the most interesting parts of the history of science, thus it was very interesting to find out more about it. I especially liked the old photographs and historical and biographical details about famous scientists. So thanks for a great talk.