Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum Group, writes about the 2013 Director’s Annual Dinner held in the Museum.
The Science Museum unveiled the next major stage in its development last night at the Director’s Annual Dinner, with the help of Cédric Villani, winner of the most prestigious prize in mathematics, the Fields Medal.
The Museum already plans to launch a £4 million platform for photography, art and science, called Media Space this autumn; a £1 million immersive show about particle physics, Collider, in November; and a £16 million Information Age gallery in 2014, as the world’s foremost celebration of information and communication technologies.
Ian Blatchford, Director, announced at the annual dinner that the next major project would be to deliver a maths gallery on the second floor of the museum in 2016, quoting Churchill, who famously described how his Harrow master ‘convinced me that mathematics was not a hopeless bog of nonsense, and that there were meanings and rhythms behind the comical hieroglyphics.’
The project will draw on the expertise of Jim Bennett, previously director of the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, and the advice of some of the country’s best popularisers of mathematics, Prof Marcus du Sautoy and Alex Bellos.
Appropriately, the guest of honour and keynote speaker at the dinner was Cédric Villani, Director of the Institut Henri Poincaré (UPMC/CNRS) who was awarded the 2010 Fields Medal and is as well known for his ‘19th century poet’ look – white cravat and long hair– as his playful, inspirational approach to mathematics.
His lecture deftly intertwined physics, economics and geometry and he referred to the curse of mathematicians who, like in the legend of the Lady of Shallot is condemned ‘ to look at this world only through its reflection.”
Villani’s research (described in his TEDx talk above) is based on kinetic theory, which scientists use to describe a system of interacting particles such as a gas or liquid in which billions of molecules are moving in all directions.
He has extended this theory to include the long-range interactions between molecules, the second law of thermodynamics and the Boltzmann equation, which describes the behaviour of particles in a low density gas. He illustrated his talk with a picture of himself taken in the central cemetery, in Vienna, next to Ludwig Boltzmann’s grave. Because the second law of thermodynamics predicts that entropy – a measure of disorder within a system – always increases, Villani has in effect figured out was just how fast our world is falling apart.
Later in the evening, Lord Rees, the Astronomer Royal, was made a Science Museum Fellow in recognition of his contribution to the world of science.
The black tie event, which was addressed by the Chairman of Trustees, Dr Doug Gurr and sponsored by Champagne Bollinger, was attended by leading figures including Jim al-Khalili, broadcaster and physicist; Evan Davis, Presenter of Dragons’ Den and the Today programme; entrepreneur and model Lily Cole; Science Minister David Willetts MP; Imran Khan, CEO of the British Science Association; Anthony Geffen, CEO & Executive Producer of Atlantic Productions; Daisy Goodwin, television producer, poetry anthologist and novelist; Deborah Bull, Executive Director, King’s Cultural Institute; Simon Singh, author; Fiona Fox, Director of the Science Media Centre; Sarah Sands, Editor of the Evening Standard; and Professor of Genetics, Steve Jones.