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

The Hidden Half - Michael Blastland *****

Michael Blastland is co-author of one of my favourite titles on the use and misuse of numbers, The Tiger that Isn't - so I was excited to see this book and wasn't disappointed.

Blastland opens with the story of a parthenogenic crustacean that seems to demonstrate that, despite having near-identical nature and nurture, a collection of the animals vary hugely in size, length of life and practically every other measure. This is used to introduce us to the idea that our science deals effectively with the easy bit, the 'half' that is accessible, but that in many circumstances there is a hidden half that comprises a whole range of very small factors which collectively can have a huge impact, but which are pretty much impossible to predict or account for. (I put 'half' in inverted commas as it might be fairer to say 'part' - there's no suggestion that this is exactly 50:50.)

We go on to discover this hidden half turning up in all kinds of applications of …

Where are the chemistry popular science books?

by Brian Clegg
There has never been more emphasis on the importance of public engagement. We need both to encourage a deeper interest in science and to counter anti-scientific views that seem to go hand-in-hand with some types of politics. Getting the public interested in science both helps recruit new scientists of the future and spreads an understanding of why an area of scientific research deserves funding. Yet it is possible that chemistry lags behind the other sciences in outreach. As a science writer, and editor of this website, I believe that chemistry is under-represented in popular science. I'd like to establish if this is the case, if so why it is happening - and what can be done to change things. 


An easy straw poll is provided by the topic tags on the site. At the time of writing, there are 22 books under 'chemistry' as opposed to 97 maths, 126 biology and 182 physics. The distribution is inevitably influenced by editorial bias - but as the editor, I can confirm …

Bloom - Ruth Kassinger ***

There is much fascinating material in this chunky book by Ruth Kassinger. It may be my total ignorance of biology and everyone else knows these things, but I learnt so much - for example that seaweed is algae and not a plant, about algae's role in the development of land plants, about the algae in lichen and its contribution to coral reefs.

The book is divided into four broad sections: on the origins and development of algae, on algae (and particularly seaweed) as food, on making use of algae, for example, for biofuel, and on algae and climate change, particularly the bleaching of coral and algal blooms. This is all done in a very approachable writing style, mixing descriptive material that is never over-technical with narrative often featuring visits to different locations and to talk to a range of experts from those who study to algae to those who cook them.

There are two problems though. Firstly, the book is too long at 380 pages. Each section could do with a trim, but this wa…