Huw James is a Welsh Science Presenter. He’s presented live science to over 750,00 people on 6 continents and had over 2 million views online. His background is in Astronomy and Space Science and Geology. He now makes educational material including films, photography and live classroom talks in geographically interesting locations worldwide.
Can you describe something that has recently amazed you? How did it make you feel?
“Amazed” is such a loaded term nowadays. I’m amazed every time I think a politician can’t say anything worse. I’m amazed at how we continue to ignore science and pollute our planet. I’m amazed at the lack of empathy shown to wild animals in cages. But just like Amazon reviews and Twitter trolls, it’s SO easy to let the negatives hold more weight than the positives. I use the word amazing a lot, mostly for positive things, like a sunrise over the Alps, or a small village built inside a volcano in the Azores. It’s almost always nature that amazes me.
Where do you think our sense of wonder comes from and what can we do to cultivate it?
I feel like there are many types of people in the world. Two identities you could place on them are Thick and Thin thinkers. The Thin thinkers turn away from complex question and deep thought. The Thick thinkers welcome it. To wonder and think thickly about something, there has to be a certain level of acknowledgement that you don’t know everything, but curiosity drives us to try to know more than we did before.
What have been the landmark events, or changes in your thinking, over the course of your career?
I’m not a smart person. But I made the decision long ago to surround myself with smart people. That decision moulded my ideas and thoughts, challenged my beliefs, and made me either change the way I see the world or solidify it. It’s okay to not be the smartest person in the room, but that’s no reason to shout down those who are. I’m truly blessed to spend time with people who are smarter than I am, intelligence is definitely aspirational. Or it was.
What message do you want people to take away after seeing your work?
For years now I’ve tried to keep my head down and do good work. I always want my work to speak for me. There’s gratification in creating content that’s wonderful. If they see a photograph of mine, I hope they see the subject, not the photo. If they see a show of mine, I hope they remember the message even if they forget the messenger.
If you were forced to choose, would you prefer to be behind a lens or in front of one? And why?
I think it would be behind the lens. I love being a science presenter, it’s what I’ve known for 14 years now. But the world is bigger than just me. And whilst I can tell stories all day, I truly believe that people need to discover things for themselves. In Science Communication, I think planting the seed of an idea, and letting the person discover it for themselves, is much better than me telling them about that wonderful phenomena, or than amazing creature.
What’s wrong with science communication today?
If you were to ask me what’s wrong with my 2005 transit van I’d probably say nothing. Oh but it has an oil leak. And the power steering needs fixing. There’s also a whole in the roof that has duct tape over it. There’s nothing wrong with science communication on the whole but there’s definitely some holes in the roof. Science Communication is still pretty new and we haven’t found out what your role is yet. Are we here to make science fun? Tell people about amazing inventions? Be a translation service for all of science? Fact check myths and misconceptions? Or all of the above? I think we have an identity crisis that won’t go away soon.
What are the main motivations for you to explore extreme environments?
The planet is full of wonder. That’s it. Seeing places that few people get to see, sleeping on a glacier, living in a jungle or climbing in to a volcano, all give me that sense of amazement. If I have to sleep on an Alp at -20 degrees to see the Milky Way over Mont Blanc, that’s whet I’ve got to do!
Where is your favourite place on earth?
There are certain places I just keep going back to, time and again. Iceland, Chamonix, Jackson Hole, Hong Kong. Some of the most spectacular have been spotting humpbacks in Alaska, photographing the sunrise in Yosemite, searching for Nautilus in New Caledonia, swimming with Sea Lions in Peru. But my absolute favourite place is the mountain 5 minutes from my house. It’s the first place I camped, the first place I went mountain biking, it’s where I found my first fossil, and now where I spend time with my family. Watching the sunset from that hill still brings me wonder after going there for 25 years. I hope for many more!
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