Saturday, 25 May 2019 Contact us

“Let me just pick up those grapes…”

A very short guide to nuclear physics

During a talk witnessed between mouthfuls of M&S sandwiches and freshly brewed cappuccino, about 150 people wrapped up for the worst in wax jackets, scarves and pull-on waterproofs listened intently to a 15-minute presentation that may have included one or all of the following terms - Alpha particle, atom, atomic number, Beta particle, electron, fission, gamma ray, ion, isotope, neutrino, neutron, nucleus, photon, proton, radioactivity, meltdown, breed, chain reaction, critical mass, decay, Deuterium, element, giga, half-life, heavy water, Plutonium, Radium, stable, Uranium, fast-breeder, anti-matter…
And I believe there might have been others but I wasn’t fast enough to write them down.
To be honest, 98 per cent of the talk’s 900 seconds went straight over my head, but that didn’t matter; I wasn’t there to learn but to participate.
And that I did, along with everyone else, huddling to get out of the chilly drafts as one of the festival’s most endearing events rolled out its quarter hour of learned exposition.
Fascinating?
Yes.
Understandable?
No.
But that’s really not the point as Professor Frank Close held proudly aloft a bunch of white and red grapes, presumably just been bought in Tesco, in his effort to simplify the wonders of the universe.
And according to the Lit Fest’s bible-thick brochure, he was attempting to explain how ‘nuclear physics has progressed since the discovery of the electron at the end of the 19th century and show how it brings the physics of the stars down to Earth…’.
I guess he probably did do that too, although I couldn’t understand it and I don’t think many in the audience did either (although I may be wrong - this is Oxford after all).
But it’s frankly irrelevant since -
The talk was free
It never was intended as a serious scholar’s guide to nuclear fusion and its everyday applications
And three, this was just one of the very many brilliant “Very Short Introductions…” organised by bookseller Blackwell’s and staged regularly throughout every day of the festival in their marquee beside the Bodleian, on a myriad of complex, weird, strange and seemingly obvious topics.
A firm favourite now with festival goers, these ‘orange box’ presentations are in many ways the jewel in the crown of the nine-day long event.
If you have 15 minutes to spare, there are, trust me, worse ways to idle away this very, very small fraction of your life.
Plus, best of all, they are specifically designed to be inclusive, graspable and easy on the brain.
I love them and always have, and by the looks on the faces of those who were clearly still wondering what grapes had to do with anything, I’d say it was pretty much a crowd pleaser.

FT Weekend Title partner University of Oxford BBC World Service International radio partner Bodleian Libraries Festival cultural partner Oxford Martin School Festival ideas partner Chêne Bleu Worcester College Worcester College: Festival college partner Italian Embassy Supporter of Italian programme Irish Embassy, London Supporters of the Irish programme MIT Press MIT Press. Sponsors of the programme of American literature and culture The Dorchester Hotels Collection Festival London hotel partner Blackwell’s Festival on-site and online bookseller Head of Zeus The Macdonald Randolph Hotel The festival hotel HM Government of Gibraltar Festival green room sponsor Gibunco Group Sponsor of Gibraltar Lecture British Academy BBC Four Television Broadcast media partner Earthwatch Europe Ian and Carol Sellars Emily Rose and James Marrow Jill Dunsmore Lady Hatch Patron donor for the programme of Irish literature and culture George Warren New College Lincoln College Lincoln College St Cross College St Cross College Jesus College St Hilda’s College 10th St Hilda's day at the festival St John’s College St John's College The Queen’s College The Queen's College Exeter College Exeter College Hertford College Keble College Keble College Oxford Brookes University The Feathers Hotel Said Business School University of Oxford Mathematical Institute Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies The Oxford Times Regional media partner BBC Radio Oxford Local radio partner Bear Ram Elk Festival Digital Strategy & Web Design The Royal Society of Literature Royal Literary Fund Princeton University Press Felicity Bryan Associates University of Oxford Alumni Office Alumni Office Conference Oxford Oxford University Images Oxford University Images The Sheldonian Theatre Oxford University Press Floris of London Critchleys City Audio Visual Eynsham Hall Macdonald Bear Hotel Sloane Club Ashmolean Museum British Humanist Association The Story Museum Oxford City Council The Litmus Partnership K T Bruce Photography K T Bruce Photography OX magazine Liaison Financial Services History of War All About History Steer Oxford Botanic Garden Wadham College Wadham College

FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival partners & sponsors

FT Weekend Title partner University of Oxford BBC World Service International radio partner Bodleian Libraries Festival cultural partner Oxford Martin School Festival ideas partner Chêne Bleu Worcester College Worcester College: Festival college partner Italian Embassy Supporter of Italian programme Irish Embassy, London Supporters of the Irish programme MIT Press MIT Press. Sponsors of the programme of American literature and culture The Dorchester Hotels Collection Festival London hotel partner Blackwell’s Festival on-site and online bookseller Head of Zeus The Macdonald Randolph Hotel The festival hotel HM Government of Gibraltar Festival green room sponsor Gibunco Group Sponsor of Gibraltar Lecture British Academy BBC Four Television Broadcast media partner Earthwatch Europe Ian and Carol Sellars Emily Rose and James Marrow Jill Dunsmore Lady Hatch Patron donor for the programme of Irish literature and culture George Warren New College Lincoln College Lincoln College St Cross College St Cross College Jesus College St Hilda’s College 10th St Hilda's day at the festival St John’s College St John's College The Queen’s College The Queen's College Exeter College Exeter College Hertford College Keble College Keble College Oxford Brookes University The Feathers Hotel Said Business School University of Oxford Mathematical Institute Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies The Oxford Times Regional media partner BBC Radio Oxford Local radio partner Bear Ram Elk Festival Digital Strategy & Web Design The Royal Society of Literature Royal Literary Fund Princeton University Press Felicity Bryan Associates University of Oxford Alumni Office Alumni Office Conference Oxford Oxford University Images Oxford University Images The Sheldonian Theatre Oxford University Press Floris of London Critchleys City Audio Visual Eynsham Hall Macdonald Bear Hotel Sloane Club Ashmolean Museum British Humanist Association The Story Museum Oxford City Council The Litmus Partnership K T Bruce Photography K T Bruce Photography OX magazine Liaison Financial Services History of War All About History Steer Oxford Botanic Garden Wadham College Wadham College