As a child I had a fear of dogs. There was no very good reason - they just seemed intimidating. When, as an adult, I overcame this phobia, I started taking an extravagant pleasure in making the acquaintance of certain dogs. I’d make a fuss of them and let them lick my face, which occasioned a few concerned remarks from friends: ‘You know, you really don’t have to let him do that...’
It’s been a bit like that with science. I was your classic science-averse kid who resisted the advances of biology and chemistry, neither of which gained a purchase on my imagination. At home I was captivated by TV science - James Burke’s Connections, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos - but by then I’d dropped the science subjects and was grinding my way miserably through O-level Maths.
But years (and two arts degrees) later, as a writer working at Indiana University, I started interviewing academics about their work. One such subject was a particle physicist who tested laptops and other electronic devices for their resistance to radiation. Even now, when I read the resulting article, I can sense the relish of the younger me trying out his facility for language on a new subject. It was partly the challenge of tackling something new, but there was also a thrill involved in feeling at ease (relatively speaking) with something I used to think of as intimidating.
Thanks so much, Nick, a lovely image to end on! If you'd like to contribute a guest blog post, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All contributions welcome!
These days, as co-editor of Bristol’s Subtext magazine, I get to meet and interview a goodly number of the University’s scientists: astrophysicists, chemists, neuroscientists, biologists, mathematicians - the full range of academic breeds. I don’t imagine for one moment that I’ve understood more than a fraction of their work, and I’d like to do an awful lot better, but just getting to grips with a topic and finding words to describe it can still hit the spot.
So when I knock on the office door of the next scientist - audio recorder in hand, web printout of their research summary in pocket - chances are that I’m silently repeating my mantra: Go ahead, science - lick my face.