The stand up science showman. He’s a chemist (originally), a lapsed pyrotechnician, a qualified teacher, author, educational polymath and a maker.
Describe something that has recently amazed you and how it made you feel.
I recently got back from a trip to the tropics, Sri Lanka to be exact, amazing country, and so diverse, I was helped by the fact that I had an excellent guide and driver who really knew his stuff but I saw so much in so many habitats, plants, birds, elephants, rocks, people and how different societies are. and even the largest animal that has ever lived, the blue whale, and they really are blue. It made me feel elated, inspired by the beauty and wonder of the natural world and it also made me see some , at least to me, interesting relationships in the differences and similarities of habitats. Filled me with questions which I will spend the next few months mulling over, and it reminded me once again why I like travel.
How would you personally define wonder, awe and curiosity? And how do they relate to each other?
I think awe and wonder are very similar, maybe just awe is more intense. When you find yourself caught in a moment that distracts you from the little thoughts that run round our minds all the time, like a bright light in the dark. Curiosity is the urge to explore to find out or try something new, maybe inspired by awe or wonder and maybe not.
What inspires you to be creative?
Am I creative, they say there is nothing new under the sun. When I have the urge to make something or to do some drawing, it is normally as I have an idea, a way of improving something or for drawing, trying to really look at some object or idea and understand it better. There is also the sense of concentration, apparently it is called “state of flow” which has been said to be as near to true happiness as a human being can achieve, I like that.
Do you have any ‘rituals’ or an environment that aids your creativity?
No not really, I have the facilities to play with ideas and the opportunity too.
What do you love about magic?
I don’t think of myself as a magician, I sometimes use a magic tricks to get the effect I want with an audience, but I am no sleight of hand maestro. Impressed by people that are though.
What do you think hinders an audience from experiencing wonder when watching a magician?
I suppose it comes down to whether the audience works how it is done, maybe how original the effect is. To the rational scientific type mind we know they are tricks, for me the really interesting thing is working out how they are done, but I can find something similar with a mechanism, I mean have you looked at the workings of an engine? I came across sleeve valves recently, very popular in the 1940s and 50s, amazing.
Where do you think our sense of wonder comes from and what can we do to cultivate it?
Try to look at the world and seek out things that you don’t understand, maybe new experiences or places and ideas. Enthusiasm is supposed to be infectious.
Can you tell me more about your career and some of the highlights along the way?
You are kind to call it a career, unless you mean it as the verb “move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way”. Highlights, I find it difficult to separate my work from my life, I’ll tell you later.
You have a very diverse range of interests from growing exotic plants to robotic programming. I see in you a childlike curiosity, how have you managed to sustain this?
I don’t see it as diverse separate things really, but a kind of continuum, I like nature so I want to know about the history of life, about rocks, the history of my species, what we make and do, I am genuinely interested in science and technology, some theoretical physics leaves me a bit dazed though.
You’ve worked in schools for many years, what changes have you seen with regards to a pupils curiosity?
Not really, I think they take things like mobile phones for granted that not very long ago would have been a wonder, I know a lot of teachers worry that kids spend all their time looking at screens and not at the world, but I am not so sure, kids are kids just like they have been for a while. When I was a kid I got given a book on dinosaurs (still have it) and I made robots. Kids still like dinos, even though now have feathers and the robots are real.
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