Skip to main content

Piers Bizony – Four Way Interview

Piers Bizony has written on popular science and space for a variety of magazines on both sides of the Atlantic, and was shortlisted for the NASA/Eugene M. Emme Award for Astronautical Writing. He has written several books, including Atom and most recently Science: the Definitive Guide.
Why science?
People sometimes imagine science as a dull technical enterprise conducted by emotionless nerds in white coats. The media also gets annoyed when scientists can’t answer questions in black and white terms – or worst of all, when one scientist’s ideas conflict with another’s. The wonderful thing about science is that it’s an act of creative imagination, followed by a test of those ideas to see if they have any truth behind them. It’s a constant and often fiery process of human discovery, rather than just an abstract set of cold facts. But the facts do count for a lot. Yes, the earth is round, not flat. Yes, the earth goes around the sun, and not the other way around. Yes, there’s an evolutionary reason – simple and compelling – why we share so much of our biology with the chimpanzees. That’s what I mean by “fiery.” The scientists who discovered these things came in for a lot of flack. Thanks to their determination, we can be sure of certain kinds of knowledge because of scientifically tested evidence. Year by year, generation by generation, science has delivered the most reliable form of human knowledge that we possess. And the exciting thing is how much more we have yet to discover. What’s not to like?
Why this book?
There are some ambitious illustrated guides to science available right now in the bookshops. They are impressive and monumental, and that’s precisely why we thought we could add something to the mix, by making a book that’s less daunting to pick up off the table, and easier for non-scientific families to get into. We spent many weeks working out what the structure of the book should be. It develops essentially as a narrative, through time and space. Where did the world come from? How did life develop? What are the forces and substances that make everything tick? Science is a story, and we structured the book in that way. And it’s not history, so much as purely and simply an overview of what we think we know today about the natural world and the forces that make everything tick. And all in plain simple language.
What’s next?
I’m working with the wonderful Rough Guides brand on a book about the genuine science of hunting for extraterrestrial life – a very hot topic right now, and fantastic fun.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
The breakthrough private technologies in space flight. Those so-called ‘space tourists’ are actually very dedicated entrepreneurs with a passion for opening up the space frontier. In the next few years we might actually start to get the science fiction future that we were always promised.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…

Jim Baggott - Four Way Interview

Jim Baggott is a freelance science writer. He trained as a scientist, completing a doctorate in physical chemistry at Oxford in the early 80s, before embarking on post-doctoral research studies at Oxford and at Stanford University in California. He gave up a tenured lectureship at the University of Reading after five years in order to gain experience in the commercial world. He worked for Shell International Petroleum for 11 years before leaving to establish his own business consultancy and training practice. He writes about science, science history and philosophy in what spare time he can find. His books include Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb (2009), Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the ‘God Particle’ (2012), Mass: The Quest to Understand Matter from Greek Atoms to Quantum Fields (2017), and, most recently, Quantum Space: Loop Quantum Gravity and the Search for the Structure of Space, Time, and the Universe (2018). For more info see: www…

Quantum Space: Jim Baggott *****

There's no doubt that Jim Baggott is one of the best popular science writers currently active. He specialises in taking really difficult topics and giving a more in-depth look at them than most of his peers. The majority of the time he achieves with a fluid writing style that remains easily readable, though inevitably there are some aspects that are difficult for the readers to get their heads around - and this is certainly true of his latest title Quantum Space, which takes on loop quantum gravity.

As Baggott points out, you could easily think that string theory was the only game in town when it comes to the ultimate challenge in physics, finding a way to unify the currently incompatible general theory of relativity and quantum theory. Between them, these two behemoths of twentieth century physics underlie the vast bulk of physics very well - but they simply can't be put together. String theory (and its big brother M-theory, which as Baggott points out, is not actually a the…