Wednesday, August 3, 2011


What is the point of this place?

We've decided to make this blog to give us a place to try to make fundamental research more understandable. In principle, we're interested in all the attempts humanity has made to study where we are, what makes life work, what the full breadth of human experience is, or any other similar natured question - as well as any attempt someone has made to express or reveal the human experience in a new way. We're interested in any endeavour which seeks to understand or express something without (necessarily) seeking a possible application. This research lives and dies on how interesting it is to the public and the first step in making something interesting is making it understandable.

In practice, for now, there are only three of us. So at the moment, fundamental research means Cosmology (me), Biochemistry (James) and Art/Criticism (Michelle). However, we also welcome guest posts on any relevant topic, including other people's perspectives on our own fields.

A secondary (but perhaps more interesting) goal we have is exploring what forms a conversation about these things will take when it is between people from such different specialisations. How are the same words used differently (e.g. time, space, life, death)? What parts of one world view does knowledge from another field illuminate or put into question? What perspectives are common or uncommon?

Why read it?

In a world that already includes many great popular science books, documentaries and blogs, what is it that we could possibly hope to add? More pertinently, why should you, a free and prosperous citizen of the internet, read our blog?

Firstly, although there are already many great communicators of research out there, there is also so much interesting research out there that a lot of it is inevitably left unspoken. Everyone contributing here is a student or a postdoc. And, at least in scientific research, the students and postdocs are the foot soldiers - few discoveries are made without at least one of us, down in the trenches, taking the measurements, doing the calculations, or analysing the data. Look on this blog as a step towards that same group of people becoming the foot soldiers when it comes to communicating research too. We love what we do, hopefully here we can give you a sense of the wonder and beauty that we experience down in those research trenches.

As I've mentioned above, none of us are specialists in each other's work. I am not aware of many situations where people from different, highly specialised, research fields have chosen to have a public discussion of each other's work. If you've ever wondered what a life scientist thinks of art, or a natural scientist thinks about life science, or any other permutation of the three, hopefully here you will find out.

If all other good that might come of this place fails, there is the practice we get in writing. The more feedback we get, the more we will improve. So, you reading, helps us. If you have questions, ask them. If you have ideas, express them. If you have criticisms, give them. We would rather write about a topic knowing that somebody is curious about it, than just because we think it is interesting.

What will be in it?

For now, each one of us has committed to writing something new at least every six weeks. This corresponds to new content on the blog at least every two weeks. We will also add content between these dates (including guest posts), but as a bare minimum we will add content on these days. At least to start with, I will be discussing the state of cosmology in general, my own papers and any interesting discoveries that are made in any fields I feel knowledgeable enough to speak on. Hopefully as things develop I will also be responding to questions asked by James and Michelle (or any other readers). I will also be influenced by their choices of topics and might try to provide my field's perspective on issues they raise.

If you have any insight from your own field of experience please join in the discussion, especially if you disagree with something we write, or have an interesting observation. We very much welcome guest posts too, so if you have anything particularly interesting to discuss, or just want to write something about your own field of work, please email one of us and we'll feature you, whatever the field.

Twitter: @just_shaun


  1. At least that is my take on things. Perhaps James and Michelle might wish to give their own ideas on the purpose of the blog and why it is worth reading.

  2. Shaun can you say a bit about what you mean to describe by "fundamental research"? I have a sense of it from our conversations but it'd be interesting to concretize in digital ether. What I mean is that we're not talking about a typology of research, or a hierarchy of domains of knowledge, but rather the question of motivation and impetus.

  3. I've just sat down to force myself to respond to this and realised that the reason I've taken so long is that I don't understand the question... did I not answer it in the post itself?

    (basically the first paragraph? - the motivation and impetus is the last sentence of that paragraph)