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a blog by Chris Barrow



So we discover this week that “the speed of light” isn’t actually the correct terminology and that Albert (of the clever brain and mad hair, not the one eaten by a lion) actually calculated the speed of massless particles, including light, gravity, gluons, photons and gravitons.

Well at least that is settled, although in the case of particles with mass, I don’t think it will help Northern Rail to run the 06:54 Hale to Stockport service any more than 60% of the time on schedule.

Proving that Einstein was right (the LIGO project) has cost us around £450 million so far.

The first £300 million of that was for LIGO 1.0 which, well to put it bluntly, just didn’t work.

That was OK, because a 5-year rebuild that cost us a further £150 million has finally produced the result that we were all eagerly anticipating (?) from LIGO 2.0.

I’m sure the delightful announcement at last week’s press conference had everything to do with this remarkable confirmation of some very smart early 20th century maths and perhaps a smidgeon of excitement at the fact that a Nobel Prize will undoubtedly be travelling towards the team with similar velocity.

I’m all for science, for discovery, adventure, exploration of outer and inner space but I do worry just a tad at the expense sometimes.

Then I remind myself that:

  1. £450 million is the profit that Apple make every 2.5 days;

  2. it takes Facebook 27 days to do the same;

  3. the UK spends roughly £450 million every 21 days fighting the “war” in the Middle East;

  4. at the NHS their £450 million vanishes every 34 hours (yes – £13 million per hour – £160,000 since you started reading this post)

As Albert might have said, “everything is relative.”

Having observed the giddy media coverage and a few of the online videos that have attempted to explain to my simple mind what it’s all about, I’ve ended up with mixed feelings:

  1. amazed that some people have built a device that has measured a gravitational ripple from a cosmic collision 1.5 billion years ago that caused our Earth to shudder to the extent of half the diameter of a single atom;

  2. even more amazed that Albert (and, in fairness, Max Planck) worked it all out with a chalk and blackboard back in 1905 (and, by the way, the scientific community took 15 years to accept that they weren’t talking bollocks – the adoption cycle has been around a long time)

  3. and yet asking myself “so what?”

When the Earth moved last September I didn’t notice.

A week ago today I attended a Bridge2Aid training day and heard that, in 10 years, they have treated 35,000 people and brought access to pain relief to 1 million.

It’s a ripple in mankind as minute as that measured in gravity.

We might need a clever statistician to measure how imperceptibly small is the extent to which Bridge2Aid have changed the world.

We choose not to.

What we measure is the difference we make to every patient, clinical officer, worker, fund-raiser, partner, sponsor, trustee and volunteer for B2A (and for all the other good causes that you support).

We measure the difference we make to one person at a time, because that difference moves the Earth for them, not at the speed of light, but at the speed of a single smile.

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