An exploration of the UK unpaid carer's world

Science                                      defying gravity - the weakest force in the universe

                                                                                                                                                      final draft of newsletter item here

                                                                                                                                                      more topics for discussion here

This page includes text for a proposed article in the Ross U3A newsletter March 2018.  It is a hidden page. 

Some paragraphs will remain for the group.

These prelim comments apply to all three pages.

More text is given than the perceived space available in order to optimise the welcome contribution of readers.
The editor will be able to inform me of the space available in word-total-space.  Much of what is here and not used can go onto a new site for the group, by the group. Perhaps in liaison with the Computer Group.  Such liaison with other groups is a key feature of this Science Group (by consensus).

Links are provided when appropriate.  Readers are invited to comment on:

                             content and relevance

                             whether the article could/should carry a link to this page for further info

                             whether it should be on the Ross website

                             or whether an independent website should be used

                             whether images should be included

Paragraph numbers will not appear in the article and are for ref purposes.  

(This page only) The Contents list is to aid initial reading. It will not appear in the article.

Depending on what is planned once the AGM is over, I could give a ten-minute presentation and distribute an A4 sheet once vetted.  A precis could go in the newsletter for absentees.

If it is decided that my presentation will include a train-set and light bulbs, allow 15 mins.  More later.

Unless someone else comes forward, I'll agree to starting the group.  its leader will be decided by a majority vote once it has got off the ground.  (If gravity allows!)

Alan F Harrison



Text in smaller font is first candidate for removal. It will be accessible to group members.

In several cases, further text via links has not been added so far.

  1. We take science for granted
  2. Democracy
  3. The thought experiment - an introduction.
  4. Countdown, and imagination
  5. Algorithms
  6. Paradox
  7. Gear
  8. Two simple thoughts, then group liaison 
  9. Presentations
  10. Expert opinion
  11. Weakest force
  12. Conclusion
  13. From the Computer Group
  14. Back to Earth
  15. More
  16. Images

1  We take science for granted

Science is the foundation of modern life and yet we take it for granted. Many of  us cannot remember a time in our lives before we heard about gravity. It seems perfectly logical to us that gravity keeps our feet on the ground and the planets in their orbit. When these notions of gravity were discovered, however, they overthrew two millennia of thought on the nature of the universe.  Stonehenge gives us insight to early interest in our planet and the stars. Fast forward to today.  Communication, sanitation, transportation, and safe drinking water we take for granted. To many of us, that universe of products and services defines modern life, freeing most of us from the harsh manual labor, infectious diseases, and threats to life and property that our forebears routinely faced. However, many of us prefer to brush understanding its background aside.

2  Democracy

It is envisaged that the new group which looks at science in our lives will comprise members who will decide which aspects are of interest.  Some readers who remember schoolday science along with test tubes, magnetism, apples falling off trees and people like Newton, will be relieved to know that their own interests can be put forward.  We may become familar with the prospect of us going to a distant galaxy for a week or two and returning five years younger.  We'll then know everything about science!

3  The thought experiment - an introduction.

However, technology cannot keep pace with theoretical predictions about subatomic reality coming from physics. The same applies to our ability to observe the far reaches of the universe. Theory outstrips data and can become more extravagant with the claims it makes about the future.   Scientists are reluctant to admit that some of the arguments they put forward are philosophical. Their theories provide a framework in which they can operate, but if they are removed not only from actual observation but from what in principle can be accessible to us, our descendants, or even any possible observer in our universe, it is hard to see that they are anything other than the product of pure reason.  Often, that reasoning is the product of what they call the thought experiment.

4  Countdown, and imagination

4a  10, 9, 8  . . . . . . 

Thought experiments are mental concepts or hypotheses, often resembling riddles, which are used by philosophers and scientists as ways of illuminating what are usually very dense ideas. Most often, they’re used in more abstract fields like philosophy and theoretical physics, where physical experiments aren’t possible. They serve as hearty food for thought, but given their complex subject matter, it’s not unusual for even the thought experiment itself to be nearly incomprehensible.  Therefore, it's quite obvious that the only way we can visit a distant galaxy for a fortnight is by thinking it through!  The group can decide who will be invited to explain what we can't work out for ourselves.  That visitor will light the galaxy-bound rocket blue touch-paper!

4b  Pure imagination

One criticism of thought experiments is that they are low on evidence and have zero repeat potential (because there is no real outcome),  the fundamentals of science.  Normal replication here.  more

"Thought experiments should be distinguished from thinking about experiments, from merely imagining any experiments to be conducted outside the imagination, and from psychological experiments with thoughts. They should also be distinguished from counterfactual reasoning in general, as they seem to require an experimental element, which seems to explain the impression that something is experienced in a thought experiment. In other words, though many call any counter-factual or hypothetical situation a thought experiment, this seems too encompassing. It seems right to demand that they also be visualized (or perhaps smelled, tasted, heard, touched); there should be something experimental about a thought experiment." more

4c  Notice to quit: the Sun will fade


If our descendants – or other intelligent life-forms that follow us – want to survive, they'll have to migrate elsewhere. But where and how? 


Eminent scientists such as Stephen Hawking have endorsed the idea of establishing colonies on the Moon or other planets so humanity would survive any disaster that wiped out life on Earth.

Humans cannot live on Mars without life support. So if large numbers of people were to take refuge there, the Red Planet would have to be made more like Earth, or ‘terraformed’. ie .. provide food, water and oxygen to support colonists.


Plants and animals will have a very tough time adapting to that hothouse, although some single-celled organisms called Archaea might survive. But only for a while. Once the water vapour is in the atmosphere, ultraviolet light from the Sun will split the water molecules, and the hydrogen needed to build living cells will slowly leak into space. If our descendants – or other intelligent life-forms that follow us – want to survive, they’ll have to migrate elsewhere. But where and how?


Yet evacuating all 6.7 billion Earthlings would take the equivalent of a billion space shuttle launches. Even if we could launch 1000 shuttles a day, it would still take 2700 years to move the whole planet’s population.  



How far can a current space shuttle travel?

Like any other object in low-Earth orbit, a Space Shuttle must reach speeds of about 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 kilometers per hour) to remain in orbit.  source

But our time-travellers don't want to remain near Earth!


No good thinking about the Moon

Q. Can the Space Shuttle fly to the Moon?

A. No, the Space Shuttle is designed to travel in low-Earth orbit (within a few hundred miles of the Earth's surface). It does not carry enough propellant to leave Earth's orbit and travel to the Moon. The Space Shuttle also is not designed to land on the Moon since it lands like an airplane and the Moon has no atmosphere. 

The Shuttle could be used to carry pieces of Moon or Mars vehicles to low-Earth orbit, where they could be assembled prior to beginning their mission.  source

Does all this help iv?

That data may well not apply centuries from now.  Technology will have advanced.


5  Algorithms

In January we learnt about artificial intelligence and John could be invited to explain algorithms. They employ a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer or modern phone.  From there, the sky's the limit, literally.  And that doesn't limit us to ideas such as relativity, spacetime (very difficult stuff) and black holes (our rocket pilot will be told to steer clear).  However, helping someone to understand their smart-phone invoice may be extraterrestial!

6  Paradox

There's a lot of energy (not E=MC2) within scientific circles (orbits?) going into finding planets like ours.  Logically, they exist.  That's a paradox named after a scientist and the group could explore the statistics.  The sky isn't the limit.  Some members may like to explore the smallest units or particles within the universe.  And/or robots and their future in society. They will have what it takes to solve the paradox.

7  Gear

Let's take a look at resources.  I have a large collection of books and DVDs. I even have an orrery which is an active
 model of the solar system.  (There's always a but.)  But it hasn't been assembled yet, dot, dot.    Other members may possess useful items.  

8  Two simple thoughts, then group liaison   the latter is a candidate for exclusion from the newsletter

There may be a simple guiding thought for the group.  The assertion that science can explain everything can never come from within science. It is always a statement about science.  From there, we orbit with philosophy.
The group could enjoy overlap with other groups. Here is an early assessment of potential:

Ancient History       Archimedes - yes, the man in the bath.  He was an early scientist.  There's plenty more like him.

Computer Skills      Alan Turing invented the computer.  Liaison with the Science Group could include helping 
                                 members  to find answers to their questions and vice versa.

Current Affairs        When astronomy and/or physics are in the news, there could be combined discussion   Hadron
                                 more  another example

Environmental Affairs   When physics and the environment come within the same breath, the two groups could                                                   combine to reduce hot air.  Groups could feed each other with investigation topics.  example

Geology & Landscape   What's the major difference between astrophysics and astrogeology of planets?  here 

                                          (Text according to space available.)

Philosophy                       The origins of science were through early philosophy.  

                                           Philosophy of science is a sub-field of philosophy concerned with the foundations, 
                                           methods, and implications of science. ... In addition to these general questions about
                                           science as a whole, philosophers of science consider problems that apply to particular 
                                           sciences (such as biology or physics).  source

Art                                       To return to a previous sentence - "Therefore, it's quite obvious that the only way we can 
                                            visit a distant galaxy for a fortnight is by thinking it through!"  On canvas!

                                             Our grandchildren may be painting pictures of holidays on Venus or Mars.  We can be         
                                             guided by the Art Group when we paint time-travel!

Modern History                  Perhaps a combined meeting and a dual presentation.  One to cover the broad scientific 
                                            advances from 1900 to today, the other to cover, say, how the World Wars revealed specific 
                                            scientific advancement.  

                                           Teflon as in non-stick saucepans came from space travel. Myth?  
                                           There will be other offshoots from space travel.  Let's hear them.

9  Presentations

The Science Group could decide to invite its own members to present info.  More suggestions:

FieldPerson/s considered "father" or "mother"
Modern astronomyNicolaus Copernicus
Modern physicsGalileo Galilei
Nuclear physicsErnest Rutherford
Nuclear scienceMarie Curie Pierre Curie                 source

10  Expert opinion

Other presentations could include Einstein, Newton, Descartes, Turing, Penrose, Dawkins, and, of course, Stephen Hawking.

Images could include Newton, Einstein, Hawking and a female scientist. 

"While 16 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to women in science, 341 men have been received the accolade. If these ground-breaking women are anything to go by, the numbers should be . . .more evenly spread."  

I suggest Marie Curie.  more

See 16.

11  The weakest force

More on the header graphic -

gravity - the weakest force in the universe here.  

This is needed - In physics, a coupling constant . . . . is a number that determines the strength of the force exerted in an interaction.  more




Going back to group decisions about presentations made by members and external speakers, it must be stressed that members must not become stressed.  There'll be no compulsion to stand or sit at the front and deliver anything.


Then we come to member presentations with emphasis on keeping them simple.  


The same emphasis will be aimed at all external speakers although we'll have less influence on what is finally delivered.  


See how far you travel with this external speaker .   Time-travel faster through the adverts here.  Don't worry if you give up soon.  Astrophysics is one of the frightfully complex aspects of science and may be voters off the agenda.  A few members might enjoy finding simpler aspects of it.  Probably not right to bat it onto the more computer-literate people in that group.


You may prefer the external speaker here.  Group discussion could include the speed of the ball in Part 1.  Does it depend on who is throwing it?


Members would probably elect to put the woman in 12d in the galactic rocket on her own and press the button.  Single journey.


They might prefer 12e but with the option of stopping it at each stage and discussing it.


Although I've studied astrophysics more off than on for years, I'll be first in the queue for external speakers as I was nearer to social science.

13  From the Computer Group

"If nothing else its exercise for the little grey cells and with persistence we will all have mastered some degree of expertise."  more  (link has s for security and may not work)

14  More

Additional reading and for Group reading if agreed that astrophyics is on the agenda.

Why The Speed of Light Matters here.

15  Back to Earth.  

My email is    Or use 01989 564661 or 07952 060 505.

16   Images

Newton, Marie Curie, Einstein, Hawking.  See 10.

pagetop                                                                                                                                      final draft of newsletter item here

                                                                                                                                                     more topics for discussion here