Paul Olding




What on Earth is Wrong with Gravity?


A journey of discovery across America with physicist Dr Brian Cox to find out what on Earth is Wrong with Gravity








Goethe Institute Science Film Festival, Bangkok 2008







In Brief



Particle physicist and ex D:Ream keyboard player Dr Brian Cox wants to know why the Universe is built the way it is. He believes the answers lie in the force of gravity. But Newton thought gravity was powered by God, and even Einstein failed to completely solve it. Heading out with his film crew on a road trip across the USA, Brian fires lasers at the moon in Texas, goes mad in the desert in Arizona, encounters the bending of space and time at a maximum security military base, tries to detect ripples in our reality in the swamps of Louisiana and searches for hidden dimensions just outside Chicago.





Behind the Scenes Preview Clips


Brian tries to explain a Gravity Wave whilst waiting for lunch

Brian scared of snakes and spiders in Louisiana

On the Road

Going to GPS HQ, Colorado Springs

Brian on faking the Apollo Moon Landings




Only Got 8 Minutes to Spare?


Watch the Podcast




What the Papers Say: Previews


“…A brilliant and funny young particle physicist called Dr Brian Cox presents this fabulous Horizon…” Times


“…At last some real science on Horizon…” Daily Mail


“…A Shame…” Daily Mail


“…Each new bit of the story involves visiting a new location, which means shots of a car on the highway,

giant cactuses in the desert, slide guitar music…” Radio Times


“…There are painful efforts to make the narrative cool…” Radio Times


“…Non stop music and an endless bombardment of more or less random images…” Daily Mail




More Comments


“my kind of viewing - a very complex subject made for the layman to watch and learn”


"I think it would have interesting to have investigated entangled particles in the programme. I think the programme could have discussed this side of particle physics in more depth."


"I thought that the programme gave a lot of information and discussed it in a down to earth way.

I think that the BBC should show a lot more of these scientific programmes. It was great to see a programme made so easy to understand."


"I was irritated by the presentation of Dr Brian Cox, he was talking over the shoulder instead of to the camera."

"of course, the sight of Horizon letting its hair down like this is always rather embarrassing…"


"who needs drugs when you can get stoned on Horizon?"


"Horizon has been sailing rudderless for several years now, unable to take itself or its audience seriously…"


" A rare acknowledgement from a science documentary that simplification can be a tricky business"


"endless bombardment of more or less random images. A shame.."


“The subject wes explained very well, for people like me with no knowledge of this type of subject.”


“The BBC should do more programmes like this. We're not all reality t.v idiots.”


“Hat's off for taking a very difficult subject and explaining it very well - and admitting when it was difficult to do so”


“Improvement in the style of delivery of interesting scientific material.”


“At last a lesson in quantum physics etc that I can begin to comprehend! Thank you!”







Photo Album



Paul on Kitt Peak



On the road



Brian bending spacetime

(sort of…)








Brian at the Tevatron Particle Accelerator

Chicago, Illinois




4m telescope, Kitt Peak

Tucson, Arizona



After a long day filming,

Saguaro National Park

Tucson, Arizona








Brian with Leonard Susskind

chatting about String Theory



Brian, Paul, Soundman Tom

and Cameraman Paul




Brian and Joe Giame detecting gravity waves

Livingston, Louisiana








Filming en route




Kitt Peak

Tucson, Arizona




Paul and Brian




Road Trip Routing



Flight London Heathrow via Chicago to New Orleans

Drive to Livingston


New Orleans, Louisiana – LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory


Flight New Orleans to Denver

Drive Colorado Springs


Colorado Springs, Colorado – GPS headquarters at Shriever Airforce Base


Drive to Denver

Flight to Chicago

Drive to Geneva


Chicago, Illinois – Fermilab, Tevatron Particle Accelerator


Drive to Chicago

Flight to Tucson


Tucson, Arizona – Kitt Peak Observatory


Drive to El Paso

Drive to Fort Davis


Fort Davis, Texas – McDonald Observatory


Drive to El Paso

Flight to San Francisco


San Francisco, California


Flight Home…





Extra Info



Particle physicist and ex D:Ream keyboard player Dr Brian Cox takes Horizon on a unique journey of discovery. Brian’s not content with his research at CERN, nor with his collaboration with Danny Boyle on Sunshine providing the inspiration for the character played by Cillian Murphy. Brian wants to discover why the universe is built the way it is and he believes the answers lie in the force of gravity.


Gravity is the thing that keeps our feet on the ground and it was the first force of nature we thought we really understood. Back in 1687, Sir Isaac Newton managed to distil gravity down to one short equation. With it, he could predict how bodies moved under its influence, how the moon orbits the Earth, how the planets orbit the sun and even how stars move about the night sky. But driving out into the wilds of Texas, Brian goes to the McDonald Observatory where astronomers have categorical evidence that Newton wasn’t entirely correct.


Back in 1969, it was Newton’s understanding of gravity that helped get Neil and Buzz to the sea of tranquility. When they came home., the left behind on the moon’s surface some very special mirrors which could be used to put Newton to the test. By firing a laser at these mirrors, scientists like Peter Schelus make incredibly accurate measurements of the distance from the Earth to the Moon. Taking readings over 40 years, we now have a phenomenally precise map of the orbit of the moon. But the orbit of the moon is different to that predicted by Newton. “…It turns out that simple Newton’s laws of gravity really don’t answer all of the questions. You’ve got to explain your observations and Newton’s gravitational theory just doesn’t do it anymore…” In other words, Newton got it wrong.


Although he had his equation, Newton never really had any idea how or even why gravity worked. He simply put that down to God. It was Albert Einstein who came up with a completely new understanding of the Universe and with it, the key to the workings of gravity.


Unlike Newton’s Universe which was pretty much had stuff wafting around empty space, Einstein Universe’s had an internal fabric in which all matter was embedded. This fabric was made of the 3 dimensions of space intricately linked with the fourth dimension of time - the spacetime. In Einstein’s universe, the planets, stars, galaxies actually warp, bend and distort the spacetime. “…Everything that happens in the universe effects the spacetime and the spacetime affects everything that happens in the universe...”


Brian heads out to the famous Kitt Peak Observatory just west of Tucson, Arizona. Looking deep into the heart of the Cosmos, some 7.8 billion light years from Earth, astronomers here witnessed what appeared to be two completely identical galaxies. This baffled them until they realized that there was an intermediate galaxy in the frame. According to Einstein, this nearer galaxy was physically bending the spacetime which caused the light coming from the far off galaxy to get bent, producing the multiple images we see from earth.


Einstein realized that his universe of bendable spacetime could explain the existence of gravity. With spectacular graphics, conceptualizing spacetime as never seen before, Brian explains that the Earth distorts spacetime, and it’s this curving of the fabric of the universe that creates the effect we feel as gravity. The bigger the mass, or the nearer you are to an object, the more curved the spacetime becomes, and so the stronger is the effect of gravity. This may sound like science fiction, but many of us use the bending of spacetime everyday, when we switch on our GPS Sat Nav.


Heading south of Denver, Brian uses the car’s GPS to navigate to the Global Positioning System HQ, a maximum security military instillation just outside Colorado Springs. Guided by Major Bandit Brandt, he is taken round the very room from which the whole GPS network is controlled. To keep the system working, the clocks onboard the satellites up in orbit have to be in synch with time on earth. But up in the reduced gravity of orbit, spacetime is bent in such a way that time ticks faster than time on earth. “…What Einstein said is that the stronger the gravitational field the slower time ticks and the weaker it is the faster time ticks…” For the GPS to work, the controllers have to dial in a time correction, otherwise GPS would drift by around 11km per day and be completely useless.


On Earth and throughout much of the Universe, Einstein’s idea of bending spacetime is an accurate description of how gravity works. But Einstein knew his theory of gravity doesn’t apply to the whole universe. It fails to work in the most violent and turbulent places in the cosmos.


In the swamps of Louisiana, scientists are trying to peer deep into the most brutal corners of the Universe. At the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, head man Joe Giame explains how they hope to use something called ‘gravitational waves’ to observe violent cosmic phenomena. ‘Gravitational waves’ are believed to be created when the spacetime is violently churned up by fast moving massive objects, sending out waves in the spacetime. “…These waves are physical distortions in our reality. You know they really are stretching and contracting the space and time that we’re in…” But so far, this bit of Einstein’s understanding of gravity and how the Universe works has yet to be proved correct.


Einstein has no answers in the dark heart of a black hole, and his idea of gravity completely fails at the Big Bang, the beginning of time. Here the Universe was incredibly hot, incredibly dense, and incredibly small. Much as he tried, Einstein never managed to answer the question of how gravity works when things get very small. “…Einstein’s theory of relativity just can't provide the answer, the maths doesn't work on the smallest distance scales…” But Brian insists that we have to know how gravity works at the smallest distances, if we want to know how it all began.


Brian takes us into the dark world of subatomic particles and the quest for a quantum theory of gravity, a universal theory that will work everywhere in the Cosmos. Quantum mechanics predicts that the force of gravity is ultimately created by the transmission of a particle, which they’ve called the graviton.


Using the Tevatron Particle Accelerator just outside Chicago, scientist Greg Landsberg has been trying to create these illusive gravitons. But in this complex field of science, Greg has a significant challenge on his hands. “…Its amazing that the way to see the graviton is by not observing it, by observing it’s missing…” If gravitons are created, Greg believes they would instantly disappear, vanishing from our reality into alternative dimensions of space. Brian explains that “…what scientists like Greg are proposing is that there can be extra hidden unseen dimensions. It sounds ridiculous and it is impossible to picture, but theoretically It’s possible. And it’s also possible that gravitons can spend most of their time in their extra dimensions…”


For the time being, the quest to find the graviton, and with it the solution to the mystery of gravity continues. Brian is confident we are looking in the right places. “..The solution to a deeper understanding of gravity will certainly lie in the marriage of Einstein’s theory with the quantum theories of sub atomic particles…” But he concedes that “…If there are things that I listen to, you listen to that you think that I just don’t understand that, then you’re in good company because nobody understands it…”




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All Images copyright Paul Olding 2008 or BBC