As a new kid on the block, I'd like to introduce myself via this inaugural piece.

It follows a few posts I've made in Rycharde Manne's and Eric Diaz's columns recently

The title of my piece is The Oak of Science, and its intention is to liken the recently discussed conundrum of Science journalism and Scientists apparent failure to get science across to everyone, to the humble Oak tree,  - one of England's majestic and historic 'art models' that posed for many a fine painting, before my humble effort, here

The oak has always been seen as the national tree of England. Its great height, age and strength made it the king of the English forest, and a symbol of endurance. Oaks have been a feature of our landscape ever since the end of the last Ice Age. As the climate warmed, 10,000 years ago, oaks spread northwards from mainland Europe, crossing over the land bridge which is now the Channel.

Few places support such a variety of life as an English oak tree. Its soft leaves rot quickly in autumn, forming rich leafmould for insects and earthworms. The oak's open canopy allows plenty of light to reach the ground, so that many other plants, including primroses, violets, bluebells and ferns, can grow here. The tree itself is home to many birds, small mammals, insects, mosses, lichens and fungi [1].

In short, my analogy is this; Science is like the Oak, and can shelter many others who come under its canopy, or who come across it whilst hiking, or gazing from a mountaintop, standing alone on a distant hilltop, with perhaps birds singing its branches, and squirrels harvesting its acorns – a veritable hive of life

In like manner,  science is host to a hive of life, covering not just the 3 basics of Chemistry, Physics, and Biology, but also the life sciences, social sciences, theoretical modellers, and mathematicians, seekers after the origins of existence, of time itself, and humanity's place, if it is determined to have one within it, and even whether this is because of a divine creation, or an accident, or alien invasion,  -  in short, 'Let no stone be left unturned'

A common perception of science, often amongst 'journalists', is that somehow scientists and their pet topic are in a vacuum, and the 'lay public' are 'outsiders'.....

Well, it is said of a vacuum, [2]

"It is not empty. Even when all matter and heat radiation have been removed from a region of space, the vacuum of classical physics remains filled with a distinctive pattern of electromagnetic fields”

Aristotle and his followers believed no region of space could be totally empty: This notion that "nature abhors a vacuum" was rejected in the scientific revolution of the 17th century; ironically, though, modern physics has come to hold a similar view. Today there is no doubt that a region of space can be emptied of ordinary matter, at least in principle. In the modern view, however, a region of vacuum is far from being empty or featureless. It has a complex structure, which cannot be eliminated by any conceivable means.
This is what I find so fascinating, as there is an image of a tree which can be viewed from afar yet is readily recognisable as what it is...a whole tree

Try to do the same with Science, and this easy overview, is not so easy to envisage, even to many Scientists, as often there are branch specialities, and just image how hard it is for a mere limb to be aware of a tree's existence, and to the average person, casual reader, what tree are they presented with, other than a leaf here, some mould here,  or a glimmer of light between branches hinted at over there

So what is needed to pull it all together?

My notion is, that it's the same thing that causes the tree to still be standing – it is the very life force itself, that which converts the energy from the sun, and draws moisture from the deepest roots, yet remains invisible

So it is also with humanity and the vast vacuum of space. There is a life force which is inherent in all life, and all inanimate surroundings of life, yet which is somehow invisible  as science to the average reader of science
It would be simple to jump quickly from the hemispherical experiments, and horse teams of Otto von Guericke to prove the existence of a void, through to the recognition by experimenters that there was another factor to the void, which was heat. Sucking out the air, or rather varying the pressure, caused a change in temperature, and thus a new branch of science grew

Thermal Radiation

Thermal radiation consists of electromagnetic fields that fluctuate in the most random way possible. Almost paradoxically this maximum randomness gives the radiation great statistical regularity – or so it seems The one physical quantity that determines the character of thermal radiation is its temperature. In 1879 the Austrian physicist Josef Stefan investigated the total energy density (or energy per unit volume) of thermal radiation and, on the basis of some preliminary experiments suggested that the energy density varies as the fourth power of the absolute temperature. Five years later Stefan's student Ludwig Boltzmann found the same relation through a theoretical analysis. Yet even this does not identify the life force, there is yet more

Classical Electron Theory

The mathematical function needed to describe the thermal spectrum was suggested by Max Planck in 1900. Planck emphasized that an understanding of thermal radiation required the introduction of a new fundamental constant, now called Planck's constant, In the course of his struggle to explain his function for the thermal spectrum Planck launched the quantum theory.

Parallel to all of this, in yet other branches of science, there were explorers, botanists, medicines being discovered and categorised, and writers of fiction, even adding to the mix, as bones were recovered from areas unimagined, up mountains, but appearing to have been washed there by tides ......

The very thing which kept people interested was that all this information brought wonderment into people's lives. Plants could be moved across continents to create wondrously fragrant resting places,  - herbs and vegetables to enhance and vary the dietary tastes of people fortunate enough to live in 'the developing world' and the search for 'our origins' underpinned nearly all that was explored

We have taken the exploration to the ever more complex looking into smaller and smaller atomic levels, until - POOF!
Suddenly the Heisenberg effect is upon us – Is it a wave, is it a particle, is it affected by whether an observer is watching???
Chaos theory, in its early stages?, though not thought of as such, maybe, chaos theory is more associated with the computer age

Fields of force

Well, the 2 sphere experiment was still being evolved, as the Casimir effect was establishing the fields of force between 2 plates.  The force is directly proportional to the area of the plates and also depends on both the separation between the plates and the spectrum of the fluctuating electromagnetic radiation . The force acting on the plates is attributed to fluctuating thermal radiation. When the temperatures reduced to absolute zero, both the thermal radiation and the force between the plates should disappear – however in experiment, it didn't!

Instead there was a residual attractive force that would persist even at absolute zero.
An excellent example of the theory being at odds with reality

Life force

So what is this energy, this life force that so beguiles us, and yet beckons us to keep  exploring.....? Those vacuum fields are now referred to as classical electromagnetic zero-point radiation, and it is there that all manner of opportunity arise

 – from the nothing, everything is possible [3]

Well I'm sorry, but I'm also a bit of a tease, so just like the soap operas many have been conditioned to watch, I'm going to leave you in suspense, hanging from whichever branch or root of the science tree you felt comfortable with, until my next post

Thank you for reading, and don't be too harsh if I omitted your specialised field

You may like to continue and  read part 2




[3] License to invent, Henry Cox a.k.a. Aitch