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Manchester physicist gets to grips with gravity

28 Jan 2008

A physicist from The University of Manchester will appear on national television tomorrow on Tuesday 29 January 2008, tackling a question that has baffled the world's greatest scientists for over 400 years - what is gravity?

In 'Horizon - What On Earth is Wrong with Gravity?' (BBC TWO, 9pm) The School of Physics and Astronomy's Dr Brian Cox takes a road-trip around the United States in his quest for an answer to this tricky question.

He fires a laser at the moon in Texas, bends time to operate his satellite navigation system in Denver, and tries to capture gravity itself in the swamps of Louisiana, all in a bid to find a solution to this cosmic conundrum.

On the way, Dr Cox has to tread on some seriously big shoulders. When it comes to gravity, the biggest names in the game have all had a go at cracking it. Newton managed to predict its effects. Einstein thought he'd explained how it works.

But Cox knows there's more to gravity than even these two giants worked out.

His pursuit of a true understanding of gravity ultimately leads him to the unimaginable world of quantum mechanics. Ultimately, if he can find quantum gravity, his journey could lead him to an understanding of absolutely everything.

Dr Cox says: "Gravity may feel very familiar to us all, but this mysterious force still represents one of the biggest mysteries in science. It is a puzzle which continues to baffle the world's greatest scientists.

"For at least the last 100 years, scientists have searched for a single theory of the Universe - a theory of everything. Einstein spent the last half of his life on this quest and ultimately failed.

"A Theory of Everything might not exist of course, but if it does and we can find it then it will allow us to ask and perhaps answer questions like 'Why is the universe here at all?', 'Does the universe has to be built in a way that life can exist?' and 'How did the Universe begin?'.

"We already have a theory of almost everything called the standard model of particle physics. It describes how everything we know of other than gravity works.

"But gravity, because it's such an incredibly weak force, remains stubbornly outside the standard model. Without a complete understanding of gravity, the biggest questions in science will always elude us.

"The understanding of how the Universe works contained within the Standard Model has given us the modern world - from transistors and silicon chips to modern medical scanners, TVs, microwaves - you name it.

"What we could achieve if we widened that understanding to encompass the last missing link, gravity, is anyone's guess."

Dr Cox has previously appeared on BBC Horizon's 'The Six Billion Dollar Experiment', talking about his work at Centre for European Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland and the The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is being built in a circular tunnel 27 kilometres in circumference.

This giant experiment, which is due to be switched on later this year, will smash protons into each other at great speeds and recreate conditions a fraction of a second after the big bang.

Oldham-born Dr Cox also acted as scientific advisor to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland on the 2007 film Sunshine.

Previously the keyboard player in 90s pop act D:Ream, while still in the group Dr Cox studied for his PhD at The University of Manchester.

He eventually left the band to finish it and went on to become a Royal Society University Research Fellow based in the High Energy Physics group within The University's School of Physics and Astronomy.

Exclusive behind the scenes clips of the forthcoming programme can be viewed at http://www.bbc.co.uk/horizon

Notes to editors

Dr Cox is available for comment.

For more information please contact Alex Waddington, The University of Manchester, 0161 275 8387 / 07717 881569.

On location photographs available on request.

Horizon - What On Earth is Wrong with Gravity?
Tuesday 29 January 2007
9.00PM - 9.50PM
BBC TWO
www.bbc.co.uk/horizon