Skip to main content

Andrew May - Four Way Interview

Andrew May obtained his PhD in astrophysics from the University of Manchester in 1982. After a 30-year career spanning academia, the civil service and private industry he now works as a freelance writer and science consultant. He has written on subjects as diverse as the physical sciences, military technology, British history and the paranormal. His recent books include pocket-sized biographies of Newton and Einstein and an eye-opening study of the relationship between pseudoscience and science fiction. He lives in Somerset and his latest title is Destination Mars.

Why science?

I hate getting into arguments. If you write about art or literature or history or politics, then it's all a matter of opinion and some people are going to disagree strongly with anything you say. You're never going to see eye to eye with them, so you wind up in endless, fruitless arguments. Of course you can have disagreements about science, too - you can make mistakes, or readers might get the wrong end of the stick. But ultimately there's a real, objective truth underlying most science topics - it's not just personal opinion - and that's the great attraction for me.

Why this book?

The focus of this new series from Icon Books, Hot Science, is on 'trending' science topics - things that everyone's heard about from the news headlines, but perhaps don't understand in any depth because it's not the sort of science that's taught in school. That whole concept appeals to me - and my particular contribution, Destination Mars, happens to be one specific area that I'm reasonably well qualified to write about.

What's next?

After Mars - the Moon! That may sound like a backward step, but for anyone who's invested in a small telescope, Mars will have been a terrible disappointment. You can't have much fun looking at a tiny, featureless orange dot. The Moon is completely different - you can spend hours exploring the seas and craters and mountains, seeing where various manned and unmanned spacecraft landed, where classic science fiction novels were set, and where astronomers in the past thought they spotted evidence of life and other anomalies. That's the idea behind my next book - The Telescopic Tourist's Guide to the Moon, to be published by Springer later this year.

What's exciting you at the moment?

As far as human spaceflight is concerned, I'm much more excited by the things private companies - SpaceX in particular - are getting up to than anything NASA is planning these days. Unlike many people, though, I find unmanned space exploration exciting too - and that's where NASA comes into its own. Not just Mars, but the moons of Jupiter and Saturn as well. Places like Europa and Titan are as exciting as science gets - I wouldn't put money on life NOT being found there in the not-too-distant future!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Math Without Numbers - Milo Beckman *****

In some ways, this is the best book about pure mathematics for the general reader that I've ever seen.  At first sight, Milo Beckman's assertion that 'the only numbers in this book are the page numbers' seems like one of those testing limits some authors place on themselves, such as Roberto Trotter's interesting attempt to explain cosmology using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language, The Edge of the Sky . But in practice, Beckman's conceit is truly liberating. Dropping numbers enables him to present maths (I can't help but wince a bit at the 'math' in the title) in a far more comprehensible way. Counting and geometry may have been the historical origin of mathematics, but it has moved on. The book is divided into three primary sections - topology, analysis and algebra, plus a rather earnest dialogue on foundations of mathematics exploring the implications of Gödel's incompleteness theorems, and a closing section on modelling (

Linda Schweizer - Four Way Interview

Linda Schweizer earned an MA in mathematics and a PhD in astronomy at UC Berkeley, with the visual arts and dance as her other passions. She observed southern-hemisphere galaxy pairs with several telescopes in cold dark domes in Chile, then modelled, analyzed, and published her work in 1987. Those papers on the statistical and dynamical modelling of dark matter in binary galaxy halos were, she says, just a small stone in the mosaic of our growing understanding of dark matter. A Carnegie Fellowship in Washington, DC, was her first science job. By then, she had her second daughter in the oven— with two more daughters to follow, and she turned her focus to properly preparing them for life. After 15 years, she returned to the world of astrophysics. After a brief stint in External Affairs, she taught science writing to undergraduate students at Caltech and loved it. She was a Visiting Scholar at Caltech while researching Cosmic Odyssey , an insider’s history of one of the greatest eras in a

The Ten Equations that Rule the World - David Sumpter ****

David Sumpter makes it clear in this book that a couple of handfuls of equations have a huge influence on our everyday lives. I needed an equation too to give this book a star rating - I’ve never had one where there was such a divergence of feeling about it. I wanted to give it five stars for the exposition of the power and importance of these equations and just two stars for an aspect of the way that Sumpter did it. The fact that the outcome of applying my star balancing equation was four stars emphasises how good the content is. What we have here is ten key equations from applied mathematics. (Strictly, nine, as the tenth isn’t really an equation, it’s the programmer’s favourite ‘If… then…’ - though as a programmer I was always more an ‘If… then… else…’ fan.) Those equations range from the magnificent one behind Bayesian statistics and the predictive power of logistic regression to the method of determining confidence intervals and the kind of influencer matrix so beloved of social m