Tag Archives: ThinkTank

Guitar, Lecture, Physics, String Theory, Rock Doctor, Music, Acoustics

The Doc Rocked!

Our Annual Prestige Lecture this year went down a storm – with Rock Doctor Mark Lewney well and truly blowing our minds and ears! Full of showmanship and humour, Dr. Lewney wowed his audience, rocking us with his electric guitar through 11 dimensions!

He began with showing off his amazing talent with some requests from the audience, ranging from Metallica to Guns and Roses and even Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars. Once all had settled in to the patter of his humour and awesome playing, he began by explaining sound and how it links to our voice box. Sound is simply vibrations and he explained that they form patterns called sine waves.

For an example, he selected our wonderful BSA President Lucy, from the audience to demonstrate the patterns of vibrations called harmonics. For this he used a childhood favourite – a slinky. Wriggling the slinky at different rates (with Lucy holding the other end) it was clear to see the different patterns taking shape.

Then it was time for us to learn about the vibrations of a string (this is where the guitar comes in) and what impacts its sound – tension, length and thickness. Once we knew that the longer the string the lower the sound and other similar properties, it was time to take our basic physics knowledge and apply it to string theory.

The idea behind string theory is that all the particles in the universe are the vibrations of the same tiny strings (smaller than an atom kind of tiny).  Even that it is possible those strings can vibrate in lots of different dimensions. This of course boggles the mind to think about more than 3 dimensions. But some scientists think it could be that there are many tiny dimensions within our three, perhaps a hidden extra 6 or 7 within these tiny strings. Obviously, we don’t yet have the technology to test string theory and so for many it remains a mysterious and intriguing idea. Very few people fully understand string theory – even Mark held his hands up and said he wasn’t one of those people!

But is it possible that the universe could actually be made of music?

Well after the Rock Doctor had finished his rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody for his finale, I was left feeling anything was possible – and that’s the “kind of magic” I like!

Rock music, universe, physics, acoustics, string theory, lecture, british science association

Are you ready to ROCK?

Next weekend (4th March) we are holding our annual Prestige Lecture open to the public for free. This year we are welcoming physicist and winner of the first FameLab Dr Mark Lewney a.k.a The Rock Doctor. So in preparation for a show full of ear bending, mind blowing science using guitar music to understand the universe, BSA volunteer Amy caught up with him for a chat.

Amy: Since winning FameLab back in 2005, what have you been up to; how has life changed?

Mark: Since winning FameLab, I have done TV and radio work including a “Three Minute Wonder” for Channel 4 and a live show from Edinburgh Festival with Spinal Tap’s Harry Shearer (I jammed on stage with Ned Flanders). I’ve also toured the world with my rock guitar physics show, including science festivals in Tokyo, Las Vegas and most of Europe.

Amy: What’s your favourite part of your job and why?

Mark: My favourite shows are at schools in the evenings, where students, parents and indeed anyone at all turn up. Their questions are always surprising and often really astute.

Amy: What can people expect from the lecture in Birmingham later this month?

Mark: I explain the physics of guitars and use this as a crowbar to explore String Theory and quantum mechanics, culminating in a musical finale. Requests welcome in the warm up!

Amy: What’s your favourite scientific theory/hypothesis and why?

Mark: Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is mind blowing. Together with the hypothesis that a Higgs Field can make gravity repulsive, it could even explain how you get an entire universe from a tiny quantum fluctuation: Basically, it says that there’s no such thing as true nothingness – you’re not allowed to have precisely zero forever.

Amy: What are you getting involved in next?

Mark: I’m trying my hand at historical fiction, and I’m appearing at Cheltenham Science Festival debating philosopher Ray Tallis on the topic “Can Science Explain Music?” I say yes.

A fascinating talk is guaranteed at the lecture with heaps of fun (and good music) thrown in. This free event on 4th March is open to all and is located at the ThinkTank Science Museum, Birmingham from 6-7pm.

If you fancy rocking your socks off please pop over to our Facebook page for more details: