Skip to main content

Glen Murphy – Four Way Interview

Glenn Murphy received his masters in science communication from London’s Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine. He wrote his first book whilst managing the Explainer team at the Science Museum in London. In 2007 he moved to the United States. He now lives and works in North Carolina, with his wife Heather and an increasingly large and ill-tempered cat.
Why science?
It is without a doubt the best method we have for making useful sense of the world around us. And it delivers a sense of wonder unmatched by anything else you could ever hope to study. Once I’d figured that out as a teenager, there was no going back.
Why this book?
With the first two books, Why Is Snot Green? and How Loud Can You Burp?, I was responding to the random questions of visitors and e-mailers to the Science Museum in London. In doing so, I explored a wide range of scientific disciplines and theories, and achieved great success with the format. But I often felt that I was cutting my answers short, and wanted more freedom to explore each field in more detail, whilst keeping the same, light tone and voice.
So – after a brief digression with my third book, Stuff That Scares Your Pants Off – I returned to the whole question-and-answer book format with a whole new series of books in mind. (See Space, black holes and stuff and Evolution, nature and stuff) Each one would cover one area or field of science, fearlessly dipping into quite complex, higher-education level subjects without losing the target audience of kids and younger teenagers. My hope is that these books will give “half-interested” kids a glimpse of the excitement that could await them studying science at university level. Or at the very least, give them an appreciation for science that will hopefully stay with them as fully-educated adults. A lofty goal, perhaps. But one I’m wholly committed to as a “third-culture” science communicator and go-between.
What’s next?
I’m working on the next two books in the Science:Sorted series, focused – respectively – on human physiology and the historical evolution of technology. Expect more questions and answers, plus more fun, games, activities, and titles ending with the word “stuff”. I’m also working on a new book for under-5s with my sister, Lorna, who is a children’s illustrator based in the UK. It will be our first book together, and I’m very excited about it.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
Apart from the above? Well, I’m pretty fired up about recent developments in paleontology and evolutionary biology. We just discovered an entirely new hominid species – thousands of miles away from where anyone was looking for one, in Siberia. And not so long ago, an entirely new phylum was found living on the lips of lobsters. That we’re still making discoveries of this magnitude – in an age when we often think we’ve seen it all – makes me very excited for the future of biology, and of scientific inquiry in general.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Patricia Fara - Four Way Interview

Patricia Fara lectures in the history of science at Cambridge University, where she is a Fellow of Clare College. She was the President of the British Society for the History of Science (2016-18) and her prize-winning book, Science: A Four Thousand Year History (OUP, 2009), has been translated into nine languages. An experienced public lecturer, Patricia Fara appears regularly in TV documentaries and radio programmes. She also contributes articles and reviews to many popular magazines and journals, including History Today, BBC History, New Scientist, Nature and the Times Literary SupplementHer new book is Erasmus Darwin.

Why history of science?
I read physics at university, but half-way through the course I realised that had been a big mistake. Although I relished the intellectual challenge, I was bored by the long hours spent lining up recalcitrant instruments in dusty laboratories. Why was nobody encouraging us to think about the big questions – What is gravity? Does quantum mechani…

The Idea of the Brain: Matthew Cobb *****

Matthew Cobb is one of those people that you can’t help but admire but also secretly hate just a little bit for being so awesome. He is professor for zoology at the University of Manchester with a sizable teaching load that he apparently masters with consummate skill. He’s a scientific researcher, who researches the sense of smell of fruit fly maggots; I kid you not!  He’s also an attentive and loving family father but he still finds time and energy to write brilliant history of science books, three to date. His first, The Egg and Sperm Race, describes the search for the secret of human reproduction in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and is one of my favourite history of science books, on the period. His second, Life’s Greatest Secret is a monster, both in scope and detail, description of the hunt to decipher the structure and function of DNA that along the way demolishes a whole boatload of modern history of science myths. The most recent, and the subject of this review, is

The Search for Life on Mars - Elizabeth Howell and Nicholas Booth ***

From the book’s enticing subtitle, ‘The Greatest Scientific Detective Story of All Time’, I was expecting something rather different. I thought the authors would kick off by introducing the suspects (the various forms life might take on Mars, either now or in the past) and the kind of telltale traces they might leave, followed by a chronological account of the detectives (i.e. scientists) searching for those traces, ruling out certain suspects and focusing on others, turning up unexpected new clues, and so on. But the book is nothing like that. Continuing with the fiction analogy, this isn’t a novel so much as a collection of short stories – eleven self-contained chapters, each with its own set of protagonists, suspects and clues.

Some of the chapters work better than others. I found the first three – which despite their early placement cover NASA’s most recent Mars missions – the most irritating. For one thing, they unfold in a way that’s at odds with the cerebral ‘detective story’ na…