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!)
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!