Dr Julian Cook’s science laboratory

Friday 29th April 2011 – An emotional day for all the researchers at the Institute and it was not without some tears that we watched events unfold.

Astronaut Pauline Collins

The stunning design had been intricate and painstaking – our very own Dr Caruso had laboured over a simply gorgeous pair of glue-on flange clamps, which were added at the last minute and would prove invaluable during the mounting.

So we were understandably crushed when, instead of watching the $2 billion creation blast off into the night on the back of Space Shuttle Endeavour, we were told the whole event had been cancelled because of a knackered switchbox.

Many of you will not feel this pain as acutely as we do because you are thinking ‘Why do we need to send the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer into space when we already have Cern’s multimillion dollar particle detector here on earth?’. Well, the answer is simple, especially if you have seen the 1989 biopic, Shirley Valentine.

Shirley Valentine had to escape her boring Liverpudlian life and fly to Greece in order to get things straight in her head. Particle detectors also have to jet off if they want to see things properly, but instead of Greece, they go to space. There were several important lessons Shirley had to learn about the mysteries of the universe but before she learned anything, she had to dock with Tom Conti.  Now, if you can imagine Tom Conti is the International Space Station, you have pretty much grasped everything there is to know about Endeavour’s mission. If it helps, you can pretend the Androgynous Peripheral Attach System is his moustache. It’s not difficult – and I can personally recommend this as a mnemonic should you ever find yourself taking an exam in astronautical engineering.

Liverpool is just like the protective atmosphere of planet earth: to many, it provides a flimsy means of stability and security – but the really complicated aspects of reality just do not get through. Its presence obstructs proper scientific investigation and we could even say it is thwarting the advancement of our species in that regard. But we cannot destroy Liverpool: that would be highly risky. So we follow in Shirley’s footsteps and put as much distance between ourselves and Liverpool as possible. Only then do we really get to know about mysterious dark matter. Dark matter can be found in abundance around the Greek coastline, but even more of it exists in space and, if we are as lucky as Shirley, we will get a good look at all the secret bits which have been teasing us from under Tom Conti’s apron.

Sometimes, all it takes to reach that eureka moment is a fortnight on the Greek isles and one or two boat trips with a member of the service industry. However, the Institute’s funding department have no sense of adventure and their tightfistedness is probably the reason why, to date, I have not been able to prove or disprove the predictions of a unified field theory.

Dr Julian Cook is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Studies