Don's diary

May 5, 2000

Monday

6am flight from Glasgow to London. Arrive early. By 9am I am watching a band drilling in the crisp, bright air at Horse Guards Parade. Retreat into the Royal Society for the Aventis science book prize shortlist. Five of us on the panel need to agree which six books on science we would recommend. The original eight box loads have been whittled down to 12 books. How varied people's impressions can be!

Fruit flies inspire some of us. John Naughton's book on the internet is challenging: "Not a single line of code is proprietary - nobody made a cent from intellectual property rights." Contrast that with the chilling and topical read on tuberculosis in The White Death. Two good books on genetics make it to the final six. How to balance small deficiencies against a gripping read? Lastly, a book on superstrings and 11 dimensions is fascinating. But I would say that as a particle physicist, wouldn't I?

Update on PUS (public understanding of science) over coffee. Fly to Edinburgh to address the particle physics "town meeting" on the need to do more in PUS. But there are structural problems. As long as the BBC needs to earn money selling programmes in the United States, American faces will dominate British, even where the UK did the work.

Tuesday

Stunning view from my window at Pollock Halls, Edinburgh. I meet the same colleagues waiting for breakfast to start at the particle physics conference every year. Check the projector and clocks as I am chairing the opening session - fail to find the pointer. First speaker ends on time but then takes ten minutes to answer one question.

Wednesday

At Edinburgh Science Festival to check out work funded by my Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council PUS committee. We are funding an exhibition about Cern, specially dumbed down for the UK market - shorter sentences, fewer ideas. That is the marketing advice from our "prior knowledge" survey of those entering museums.

Scrounge a laptop for three hours of emailing, fighting crises etc. Attend an excellent wise-cracking public lecture on the physics of Star Trek. Full of science. Maybe the BBC are right to use all these Americans.

Thursday

By train and underground to my desk in Glasgow. My secretary greets me with ten inches of documents and reminds me that she is off on holiday by Friday.

Rush to Strathclyde University. Arrive in the nick of time to find my wife relaxed and waiting for a public lecture on weather forecasting.

Weekend

Home. Hook up CD player bought under the guidance of wife, daughter and son-in-law. There are 144 ways to connect up each speaker. Calculate how many will not damage the equipment. Church. Then a serious attack on the ten inches of documents. Saved by my wife's return. Relax.

David Saxon is professor in the department of physics and astronomy at Glasgow University and a judge for this year's Aventis science book prize.

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