In the span of a few hours today I learned that while chemistry has always escaped me, string theory (apparently) does not, and I shook the hand of two moonwalkers. Both things are wildly mind-blowing. I have been sitting for the better part of a couple of hours trying to, or even come close to, sorting out exactly what just happened to me today. Gobsmacked is the singular word that keeps coming to mind. I was there, and yet the whole experience is hovering over being put in the ´pictures or it didn’t happen` bin. Except I have pictures, a bag, a book, a conference pass all indicating that I did indeed have the wildest day.
I was never strong at maths or science, but I am a deeply curious person. Insomuch so I’ve always believed that continued self-learning in either discipline isn’t just for those with degrees or serious aptitude for them. I am often swept up in the livestreams from space missions with the type of wide-eyed awe that a five year old shows at a new bike. However, because I hold no education in the spheres of the Starmus speakers, the idea of being in the same room as many of these very people still feels preposterous and highly unlikely.
I have known about Starmus for the last two years. I thought I ´got it` before I even got in the doors (I mean I did write about it for the Starmus issue of The List), but the atmosphere nearly bowled me over; the excitement was far more than tangible, the focus of the auditorium was like a laser and the faces were illuminated with curiosity, awe and profound respect for those doling knowledge out from the stage.
It occurred to me when the eleven Nobel Laureates took the stage and Carlos Moedas began his keynote, that despite my lack of an engineer’s ring or a single class of physics, I was in a room of people who hold similar beliefs as I. “Democracy needs science, ”Moedas said and that, in this age of post-fact and flat out deniers, is something which I cling to as a deeply held belief. Terry Virts aptly added, during the following panel session, “if you´re not standing on the truth it’s all over,” and it is all too clear that those fighting the good fight for science number in the many and they are not giving up soon. I have been watching terrified at the voracity at which alternative-facts are taking over my country of origin, and in the hours I sat amongst the other attendees the sense that all is lost has abated.
I laughed along as Adam Smith tried to wrangle the Nobel Laureate panel, I was mulling over the possibilities for how nanocoatings could prevent the regolith from embedding in space suits and how I want to know where to sign up for classes on string theory and quantum mechanics. I am also looking forward to replaying the hours of audio I recorded.
If one day could leave me as inspired as I feel right now, I cannot imagine what I am going to feel like by the end of the week.
Tips for tomorrow: I am excitedly looking forward to seeing the presentation of the Stephen Hawking Medal of Science tomorrow and to hear the panel discussion by the moonwalkers. It is a shame Buzz cannot be here in person, however joining by video is still very fitting considering the use of technology and space.
Words by Jennifer Wold, Photos by Wil Lee-Wright