Sexy novel set to put spark back in physics

April 13, 2007

A sexually charged particle physicist embroiled in the suspicious death of a colleague could be key to improving the popular appeal of a much-maligned discipline.

Or at least that is the hope of Southampton University physicist Nick Evans, who has spent the past two years writing a novel that he expects will reposition physicists in the popular imagination and make his subject more appealing.

The 140-page novel, The Newtonian Legacy , available free on-line, follows Carl, a researcher at the fictional Phi Institute in Winchester, as he investigates the death of his colleague and is drawn into a world of drugs and alchemy.

While solving the mystery, Carl manages to have a "fast and furious coupling" with his boss's wife, lock tongues with a policewoman and propose to his girlfriend, as well as engaging with the latest ideas and theories in particle physics and helping to "uncover the mysteries of the universe".

Dr Evans of Southampton's School of Physics and Astronomy said:

"The characters share with real-world scientists a love of what they study so that they combine events of their everyday lives, such as going to the pub, with discussions of physics."

Although he hopes the reader will "understand that you cannot know these characters unless you know the physics they work on", the book reveals as much about the fictional young researchers' lives and their relationships with their bosses as it does about quarks and neutrinos.

A description of the Phi Institute's beginnings has its head, Geoffrey Montford, appointing "on short-term contracts a stream of the brightest young researchers".

Professor Montford's stature is established when the investigating police officer quakes in his presence.

"One of the toughest parts of policing for the WPC was maintaining her authority in front of natural leaders like this."

And the standing of his team is confirmed when he sternly rebukes the hapless WPC for complaining that his staff were unavailable for questioning.

"We are a place of sanctuary for some of the greatest living minds," he roars. "The professors here are uncovering the mysteries of the Universe...

They are the epitome of the human spirit. What is the point of our existence if we merely eat and reproduce?"

Elsewhere, Dr Evans attempts to address more prosaic concerns, such as sex and whether one should enjoy it. Carl does, but also objects to it "intellectually".

"There is a fundamental contradiction between the instinct to fill a woman's every orifice with goo and the respect inherent in love," he muses.

But on a more sinister note he adds: "Every man knows in his heart that rape is only the end of a spectrum that contains his own desires."

This kind of thinking may be responsible for Englishmen's reputation as useless lovers, Carl considers, before concluding: "Good for us, championing intellectual reason and compassion over animal lust."

How Carl reconciles this stance with his "wilfully thoughtless" behaviour with Mrs Montford is left as much a mystery to the reader as the whereabouts of the Higgs Boson particle.

About 500 people a month are visiting The Newtonian Legacy web page. Dr Evans is considering a sequel using the same characters.

Details: www.hep.phys.soton.ac.uk/~evans/NL

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