Skip to main content

Michael Brooks – Four Way Interview

Michael Brooks, who holds a PhD in quantum physics, is an author, journalist and broadcaster. He is a consultant at New Scientist, and the author of 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense and The Big Questions: Physics.
Why science?
Science is simply the best way we have of understanding the world. It’s not perfect – far from it – but it has made an enormous difference: the world is a better place for its existence. You only have to look at what vaccine science has achieved to see why science is such a force for good.
Why this book?
It was a great chance to sit down and think about what really matters: why do physicists do what they do, what questions they are trying to answer and what we have learned so far. It turns out that we’ve learned an awful lot over the centuries. I also loved harnessing the idea that such huge issues – Big Questions – can actually be boiled down to questions that children could ask (and they do, in my experience!)
What’s next?
I’m working on a book provisionally titled Standing on the shoulders of anarchists. It’s about how science really works. People think that scientists are cool, rational and logical – always making progress, and objectively assessing each others’ work in a tidy, well-disciplined way. The reality is very different. This book explores the intrigues, the moments of dubious behaviour, the wacky inspirations behind some of our greatest breakthroughs – dreams, drug-taking, hallucinations – the triumph of personality over evidence… All of this lies behind work that has won Nobel Prizes. In a way the book is highlighting science’s rock ‘n’ roll side: science is anything but boring.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
Lots of things! It’s great to see the Large Hadron Collider up and running now, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of that in particular. But I’m pretty much always excited. Almost every week science seems to spit out a surprising result or discovery that makes you stop and question everything you were thinking the week before!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Rockets and Rayguns - Andrew May ****

The Cold War period saw dramatic developments in science and technology, coinciding with the flourishing of the science fiction genre. In Rockets and Rayguns, Andrew May draws on the parallels between reality and fiction, each influencing the other.

Inevitably a major Cold War theme was the threat of nuclear war, and May opens with the bomb. It's fascinating that fiction got there first - nuclear weapons were featured in science fiction when many physicists were still doubting the practicality of using nuclear energy. Of course, it's a lot easier to simply take a concept and dream up a weapon than it is to make it for real - for example, H. G. Wells' prophetic nuclear bombs from his 1914 The World Set Free were nothing like the real thing. And some science fiction devices concepts - notably ray guns and force fields - came to very little in reality. However this doesn't prevent the parallels being of interest.

May gives us a mix of the science - describing how nuclear we…

Galileo Galilei, the Tuscan Artist – Pietro Greco ****

Near the beginning of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, he refers to a ‘Tuscan artist’ viewing the Moon through an optic glass. He’s talking about Galileo – one of history’s greatest scientists, but not the most obvious person to slap an ‘artist’ label on. Yet Galileo lived at a time – the Renaissance – when it was fashionable to dabble impartially in both the arts and sciences. Look up ‘Renaissance man’ on Wikipedia and you’ll see Galileo’s picture right there underneath Leonardo da Vinci’s. It’s a less well-known side to his life, but it crops up again and again – interspersed among his many scientific achievements – in this excellent new biography by Pietro Greco.

If you’re looking for interesting trivia, you’ll find plenty in this book. Galileo’s father was a musician with scientific leanings, who carried out some of the first experiments on musical acoustics – which Galileo may have assisted with. As a young professor of mathematics, Galileo delivered a couple of lectures on …

The Ultimate Interplanetary Travel Guide - Jim Bell **

Not too long ago, NASA brought out a series of spoof ‘space tourism’ posters for various destinations in the Solar System. For people like me, who have watched NASA depressingly fail to send humans to the other planets for decade after decade, it was just another painful twist of the knife. On the other hand, the posters probably have more appeal for younger and less cynical minds, by presenting familiar astronomical objects in a new and engaging way. There may even be scope for a whole book along these lines – and that’s what Jim Bell has attempted here.

The main thing I learned from it is that my brain is programmed to read either fiction or non-fiction, and can’t handle a 50:50 mix of the two – which is what this book is. It drove me mad –  not least because I could see that the same material, presented as straight non-fiction, could have made a really excellent book. Using the NASA posters as a starting point, he could have enumerated the potential ‘tourist sights’ at each location…