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Why Science Matters

September 9, 2013

Tonight the city will bestow one of its highest honours on a man whose journey of discovery is leading to a ‘step change’ in the way we understand the universe.

We will give Professor Peter Higgs the honorary freedom of the city, even though unfortunately he can’t be with us tonight. It’s an honour that we bestow on people who make a difference to both our city and the world. Past recipiencts have included Sir Bob Geldof, Nelson Mandela and ex US President Jimmy Carter.

Prof Higgs, who was born in Elswick in 1929, predicted in 1964 the existence of a new particle one that gave fundamental particles their mass – what became known as the Higgs boson.

His prediction was so important that experts from around the world spent the next five decades trying to ‘see’ the particle.

That search ended last Summer at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva when two teams of scientists finally glimpsed what some parts of the media have dubbed the ‘God particle.’

The honouring of Prof Higgs will form part of the opening to the British Science Festival which is taking place in the city until 12 September.

Professor Higgs is one of our star attractions, he joins a long list of Tyneside-born inventors and innovators who helped make Newcastle the city of science it is today.

We pay tribute to them within this very building, walk along the committee corridor and you’ll find rooms named after giants of the past like Joseph Swan, Charles Parsons and William Armstrong.

Looking through the science festival programme, I was struck by the diversity of what this annual celebration has to offer.

There are lectures on everything from the science behind cosmetics to Bronze Age combat, from finding the true age of the universe to the evolutionary history of teddy bears.

But this festival isn’t really about the big names and whacky lectures that can generate controversy or hold the headlines.

What it’s really about is involvement, about sending the message that science is for everyone – not just a chosen few.

And it’s about getting away from that image of science as men in white coats holding test tubes – it’s about saying how science is part of everyday life and how an understanding of it enhances our lives.

There is a proud heritage to build upon – we are a city that believes in scientific research and development. That’s why the Government bestowed Science City status upon Newcastle.

To find out more about the science festival go to http://www.britishsciencefestival.org

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