Physicist and broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili discusses the power of wonder, the importance of overcoming our biases and the biggest mysteries in fundamental physics
IT SEEMS nobody spends quite as much time discussing the joys of science as Jim Al-Khalili. Whether with guests on his BBC radio programme, The Life Scientific, in the documentaries he presents or with the students he teaches and mentors at the University of Surrey, UK, he is on an insatiable quest to find out “why”. He told us where this all started, why scientists need to question their own biases and about the importance of never growing up.
Richard Webb: To turn the tables a bit, what made you take up a life scientific?
Jim Al-Khalili: I guess my passion for science, well, physics, began in my early teens, when I was obsessed with football and discovering girls and thinking I’d one day play for my beloved Leeds United, who were a good team back then in the mid-1970s. But I suddenly fell in love with physics. It was like puzzle solving; it was common sense. With chemistry and biology, I had to remember stuff, and I’m terrible at remembering stuff. Physics also dealt with the big questions. Where does the universe come from? What does an atom look like? What’s inside a star? So from about the age of 13 or 14, I wanted to do physics. If I got to play for Leeds United, that would be nice, but I was going to be a physicist.
Your latest book is called The Joy of Science. Is that something you feel on a day-to-day basis?
It is, actually. Part of why I enjoy science communication is that I like doing the science. I like …