Photographer's Note


Oxbridge Colleges, collectively describing the federation of colleges comprising the two great British universities, Oxford and Cambridge, are unrivaled for their academic legacies. The two universities date back to the early 13th century, both have produced countless Prime Ministers and other statesmen of England, as well as leaders of other nations. Both have produced some of the most important writers, poets, historians… and many of the finest scientists in history. Although my academic training in theoretical physics (I was a post-doc) included Oxford, neither Oxford nor any other institution in the world can possibly compete with Cambridge's contributions to modern science. Before giving a talk at Yale University in 2009, I had checked to see which academic institutions had produced the most Nobel Laureates, I found that 18 names were associated with Yale, 33 with Princeton, 43 with Harvard… and approximately 80 with Cambridge.

The photo shows a punt being navigated gently along the River Cam, and I shot it from a punt in which I was a passenger. Cambridge gets its name from this river — and presumably an ancient bridge that must have crossed it in the distant past. On the Cherwell River in Oxford one can also see punts, all testaments to a day in the past (17th century) when the British were becoming enamored of the classical world of Greece and Rome, and with all things Venetian. The punts of Oxford and Cambridge were inspired by the gondolas of Venice, and St. John’s College Bridge, by the Bridge of Sighs. One of the greatest scientists of the 20th century, theoretical physicist, Paul Adrian Maurice Dirac, who synthesized quantum mechanics at the age of 23, completed his PhD at Cambridge, won the Nobel Prize at 32, then served as a professor at St. Johns College, Cambridge for the next forty years. Two years ago Bridget Plowright, (NorfolkGirl) submitted a similar photo, which I had admired since I first saw it. Accordingly, I am pleased to dedicate this photograph to Bridget.

I was in England for an unusually short, 96-hour visit between June 12 and June 16, in order to do some exploratory work on a new book, 'The Miracle Year', for National Geographic Books. The subject of the book is Isaac Newton, the greatest scientist in history, and possibly the smartest man ever, but also an exceedingly difficult, reclusive, recalcitrant and irascible man who lived between 1642 and 1727. During an 18-month period when the Bubonic Plague had just arrived in England from the continent, and started to ravage the population of London, Oxford and Cambridge (each 80-km from London) were closed down. Newton, who had recently completed his BA degree, spent the next 18 months in his home at Woolsthorpe Manor, about 100 km to the north. When he returned to Cambridge with a list of his “mental inventions,” his theories, he began to change the way we see the universe. He was 23-years old in 1666 when the seeds of his works were planted, it would be another 23 years before he would publish them in his defining work, 'Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Matematica.' Newton formulated differential and integral calculus, discovered the three laws of motion that bear his name, the Universal Law of Gravitation, and much much more. Basically, he unified the laws of heaven and earth, and created the fundamental tools to search for new laws. Ultimately, he showed the inextricable connection between nature and mathematics. He even invented the reflecting telescope.

In the workshop a 'working map' I generated shows the trajectory I took during my 96-hour visit of the UK.

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Additional Photos by Bulent Atalay (batalay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6777 W: 471 N: 12149] (41261)
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