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Four Way Interview - Liz Kalaugher and Matin Durrani

 Matin Durrani is the Editor of the international magazine Physics World. After his PhD at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge (on polymers), Matin did a postdoc before moving into publishing in the late nineties. He has been editor of Physics World since 2006. 

Liz Kalaugher also has a PhD in materials science, along with qualifications in Biological Sciences. She is the editor of environmentalresearchweb.org, a leading news resource on environmental issues. 

Their new book is Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life.

Why science?

Liz: Science explains – or tries to, at least – how the world and everything in it works and that’s something I think almost everybody wants to know. As people, we’re hard-wired to look for patterns and meaning so I guess finding science fascinating is part of that. And who hasn’t wondered why toast always seems to land buttered side down? Or why it often rains at the weekend? For me, finding out how physics helps animals survive was another aspect of that curiosity.

Matin: I love order in the world and it's a comfort to know it can be understood with some simple, scientific principles. Plus with no science, we'd be stuck in the dark ages – ignorant, ill, and with none of the comforts of modern life. Take the mobile phone – most people think these incredible devices are run by magic or fairies, assuming they even think about how they work at all. Physics lies at the heart of technology and deserves respect.

Why this book?

Liz: I’ve always loved animals and writing Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life was a great opportunity to talk to interesting researchers and discover more about their weird and wonderful findings. Some of the ways that animals exploit science in their day-to-day lives are mind-blowing. Nature is chock-full of physics, from giant squid that have eyes the size of dinner plates in order to spot the faint glow from plankton disturbed by sperm whales, to 2-inch long turtle youngsters that navigate round the Atlantic using the Earth’s magnetic field before heading back some 20 years later to the very beach where they hatched, to bees that sense the electric fields given off by flowers to gauge the health of their nectar stocks. 

Matin: Physics World magazine, which I edit, published a special issue on animal physics in 2012. While preparing the issue, we came across so many wonderful examples of animals that use physics to survive that Liz and I knew it would be a great idea for a book. No-one had mixed animals and physics in quite the same way before and there was no shortage of amazing animals either. Lots of people are scared of physics – or think it's not for them -- and I hope the book gives them a way in to the subject, while also appealing to those who already like physics.

What’s next?

Liz: At the moment we’re focusing on writing articles and giving presentations to publicise Furry Logic. We’ve been in The Big Issue, on the Cosmic Shed podcast and on BCfm radio, and are set to be in How it Works and Physics World magazines soon. We’ll also be talking at the Festival of Physics in Exeter on November 26th and in Bristol for the IOP Southwest branch on November 23rd. After that, maybe it will be time for another book.

Matin: As well as finding ways to promote Furry Logic – Liz and I are available for talks, media appearances and writing – I'm mulling over what the next book should be about.  The physics of food and sport are two options, but there are still so many fascinating animals out there that I want to find out about.

What’s exciting you at the moment?

Liz: I recently discovered a starling roost. Watching these birds swarm through the twilight in ever-changing configurations before calling to each other as they settle on a high perch for the night is magical. And there’s lots of interesting science examining how the flocks form. I’m also looking forward to visiting the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition and finding photos of animal physics in action. 

Matin: Apart from freaking out about Brexit and the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency, on a more mundane level I'm getting my stairs carpeted and hoping that Birmingham City get promoted to the Premier League. That's life: existential angst mixed with domestic trifles.

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