Thursday, 6 January 2011

Quantum Mechanics and The Archers

As I was lazily enjoying the Bank Holiday on Monday, my mobile phone rang. I answered it to find a researcher for the BBC's PM programme asking me if I was an Archers fan and if I knew anything about Quantum Mechanics. The answer was yes on both counts. In truth, the older I get and the more I study physics, the more I realise that I don't understand things, but I think there's no doubt that I'm an Archers fan.

For the show's 60th Anniversary edition on Sunday, they had a double-length episode, with a cliff-hanger in which we heard a long running cast member's scream as he fell from the roof of his stately home. What we didn't know for sure is whether or not he died. I didn't think about it at the time as I listened, but others apparently made the link between this situation and the Schroedinger's Cat thought experiment. The BBC picked this up and wanted to have me on PM to discuss it. So... I said yes, and walked the 30 seconds to the BBC studios that I conveniently live next to(!) and before I knew it, I was pre-recording an interview with Eddie Mair about the link between not knowing whether Nigel, the Archers character, was alive or dead, and not knowing whether a cat, locked in a box with a phial of poison which opens according to a random event, is alive or dead.

I thought I'd sound a bit nervous at the start of the interview, before I relaxed a bit, but listening to it when it went out (which I never much like doing!) it was actually okay. I think I gave a reasonable account of Schroedinger's Cat for a Radio 4 audience, and I got to talk to the great Eddie Mair.

Thanks to Jim Al-Khalili for forwarding my number to the BBC. They asked him (and according to Twitter, lots of others) before finally finding someone qualified to talk both about the Archers and Quantum Mechanics. That's one interesting Venn diagram.

If you want to listen, and you read this before the 10th of January, you can listen again on the BBC website. I'm about 40 minutes in.


  1. I'm very impressed with your versatility!

  2. Thanks! I never realised that it'd be a useful combination ;-)