On Sunday 1st November I will be leading a guided walk with a difference as part of Manchester Science Festival. The walk will be brought to life by actors playing the parts of the luminaries of the past, Ernest Rutherford and Alan Turing.

One of the great things about being a tour guide in Manchester is that our history is so often world history.


"Lord Rutherford, I presume" Ernest Rutherford debunking the plum pudding theory of the nature of the atom.

Ernest Rutherford is the father of nuclear physics. His pioneering work in Manchester, between 1907 and 1919 led to the modern interpretation of the nature of the atom. Rutherford will be demonstrating this himself on Sunday with the aid of a plum pudding and a golf driver!

Alan Turing is the father of modern computing. He did not build the first electronic stored-memory program computer, but it would not have happened without him. The computer was built in Manchester and first operated successfully in 1948.

Turing came to Manchester soon afterwards and worked on theories such as the computerised brain / artificial intelligence. He developed a test to see if we could distinguish between a machine and a human being. Take the test with Alan Turing this Sunday.

What: On the Shoulders of Giants – a guided walk with a difference
When: Sunday 1st November at 11.00 a.m. (duration one hour)
Where: Manchester Museum, Coupland Street entrance (off Oxford Rd)
Cost: £5 for working adults, £2 for young people, children and other concessions
Suitable for: Anybody, but especially teenagers and adults

Of course, Rutherford and Turing have both been in the news recently for different reasons.

Rutherford was being blamed for conducting experiments that led to high levels of cancer-causing radiation in one of the university buildings – now called the Rutherford Building. A recent report gives the building a clean bill of health, but on the walk we will stay outside – just to be on the safe side. Ironically, Hans Geiger (who gave his name to the Geiger counter) also used to work with Rutherford in the building.

Turing has received an official apology from Gordon Brown for the way that he was treated in the early 1950s for being gay. Homosexuality was considered a crime and Turing was forced to take oestrogen, in an experimental form of chemical castration, by the courts. The man behind the breaking of the WWII German Enigma code also had his security privileges removed, meaning he could not continue to work for the UK Government on leading edge research. He committed suicide at his home in Wilmslow in 1954.

My intention in devising the walk was to outline what the University of Manchester’s giants of the past have contributed but also to discover what the pioneers of today are doing to shape the world we live in. Hence the title for the walk “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”.

I intend to help Rutherford find out about the amazing experiments that are being developed at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN by particle physicists from Manchester’s High Energy Physics group (not to be confused with the Hi-NRG Physics group).


Alan Turing meets Prof. Steve Furber in front of the Alan Turing Building at the University of Manchester. Steve Furber is showing Alan Turing an example of what today passes for a "baby" computer. In Alan Turing's day the computer called BABY weighed one ton and filled a whole room.

I will also update Turing on the mind-boggling work that is being done at the School of Computer Science to see how far technology can go in creating a computerised brain. I will also show him the new university mathematics building that bears his name.

You don’t need to be a scientist or technologist to join the walk. The walk is suitable for generalists and anyone interested in the pioneering achievements that have taken place in the city.   There is no need to book, just turn-up and go.  See you there.


Actors supplied by the organisers of the 24:7 theatre festival with the support of Corridor Manchester

Photographs by Chris Foster Photography with the support of Manchester Science Festival