Rock Doctor adds spice to science

Science lecturers are unlikely to launch in to a rock riff on their electric guitar to help them explain the mysteries of the universe. But Dr Mark Lewney - described as a cross between Einstein and Jimi Hendrix - is not your average boffin.

Science lecturers are unlikely to launch into a rock riff on their electric guitar to help them explain the mysteries of the universe.

But Dr Mark Lewney - described as a cross between Einstein and Jimi Hendrix - is not your average boffin. Known otherwise as The Rock Doctor, he is bringing his unique blend of science and rock music to UEA this month for a talk on the complexities of music and the big questions about the cosmos.

The acoustics expert's performance will fuse explanations about the science behind his electric guitar with live, practical demonstrations in the form of riffs from Queen, AC/DC, Vivaldi and Richard Strauss.

"I've been a guitarist since I was about nine, when I taught myself, and I've always been interested in science," said Dr Lewney. "I was the annoying kid at school who was always asking questions, and then I did a physics degree at Edinburgh University."

He went on to do a PhD in acoustics at Cardiff, and his day job is examining new inventions in telecoms.

But, two years ago, his inventive twist on physics lectures saw him win a competition at Cheltenham Science Festival that was seeking the next Robert Winston or Johnny Ball who could bring science to the masses in a fun way.

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"My lectures are very scientific, but nothing about science is hard to understand if it is explained properly, and I use music so people can enjoy it too," he said. "I start off by looking at the science around music and what it is - vibrations in the air.

"There is nothing magical about music: it can be magical in the way it makes us feel, but the actual sounds that come from an instrument are simply vibrations."

The Rock Doctor then uses the vibrations of his guitar strings to give possible explanations of the universe.

Superstring theory is an attempt to explain all the particles in nature in one theory by modelling them as vibrations of tiny, super-symmetric strings.

"In the space of 40 to 50 minutes I go from just every- day things to big, universal questions that will, hopefully, keep the audience lying awake at night," he said.

"I use riffs and play little pieces on my guitar, like It's a Kind of Magic by Queen, some AC/DC and the Strauss piece from 2001: A Space Odyssey, to kind of form the end of a paragraph."

The show will mark the official launch of UEA's new Centre of Physics, which aims to boost collaborative research between the 30 physicists working at the university, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and across the Norwich Research Park.

The Rock Doctor presents Rock Guitar in 11 Dimensions on Thursday, October 18 at 5pm in Lecture Theatre 1 at UEA. The event is suitable for adults and children over 10. Admission is free but booking is essential - email Dr Martin Loftus at cophis@uea.ac.uk

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