Monday, April 05, 2010

Jodrell Bank, Brian Cox and science

We ventured to Jodrell Bank today. Partly inspired by Professor Brian Cox's mesmerising Wonders of the Solar System on BBC TV, but also because I've never been. Even with an association with the University of Manchester dating back 22 years and a recognition of its place in the modern fabric of the North West, it was something I needed to put right.

Like the Winter Hill transmitter and HMS Inskip, the giant Lovell telescope stands proud in the landscape as the symbol of regional pride, communications and a yearning for greater knowledge, though probably not in that order.

As a location, it is spectacular. The telescopes being the centrepiece. The parkland around provides a good backdrop for exploration of a different kind and it has the variety of trees that make it an arboretum worth visiting again, especially in September.

As visitor attractions go it isn't all that. Not by the modern standards set by the Eden Project and the National Railway Museum at York. The buildings look and feel like a weary comprehensive school and the facilities are bare. The 3D film of a trip to Mars was lovingly presented by Eric, the resident narrator, but next to Brian Cox's globetrotting antics it didn't tell much of the tale of life on other planets and of cosmic physics that such a place should inspire in curious young minds.

Happily, all of this is going to change. A new visitor centre is planned at a time when interest in science and physics is being encouraged - needs to be encouraged - like never before. There are lots more details about this here.

And if I have one tinge of frustration with the floppy haired professor basking in the media spotlight as the poster boy for this new zeal for science, it is that his employer, the University of Manchester, is nowhere to be seen. It is an opportunity missed, but hopefully one being addressed.

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