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Festival of Ideas

What Are the Physics Experiments That Have Changed Our Lives? Suzie Sheehy

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Physicist Suzie Sheehy introduces us to the people who, through a combination of genius, persistence and luck, staged some of the most ground-breaking experiments of the twentieth century.

For millennia, people have asked questions about the nature of matter. In the twentieth century, this curiosity led to an unprecedented outburst of scientific discovery that changed the course of history.

How did a piece a gold foil completely change our understanding of atoms? What part did a hot air balloon play in the discovery of cosmic rays? How did the experiments in the run-up to the Large Hadron Collider lead to the invention of the World Wide Web?

Sheehy shows how asking questions and experiments informed innumerable aspects of how we live today. Radio, TV, the chips in our smartphones, MRI scanners, radar equipment and microwaves, to name a few: these were all made possible by our determination to understand, and control, the microscopic.

In conversation with Bristol Ideas’ Zoe Steadman-Milne, Sheehy celebrates the creative and curious people and their experiments that brought physics into the real world, putting what was theoretical in the hands of people.

Recorded in front of a live audience in May 2022.

Suzie Sheehy’s The Matter of Everything: Twelve Experiments that Changed Our World is published by Bloomsbury. Order a copy online or buy at the event from Waterstones.

Suzie Sheehy

Suzie Sheehy is a physicist, academic and science communicator who divides her time between her research groups at the University of Oxford (where she is a Royal Society University Research Fellow) and the University of Melbourne (where she is a Senior Lecturer). Her research focuses on developing new particle accelerators for future applications in areas such as medicine and energy. Follow her on twitter @suziesheehy

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