Co­me­dian and math­e­ma­ti­cian DARA Ó BRIAIN is div­ing into the in­vis­i­ble sci­ence be­hind ev­ery­day life in his sec­ond chil­dren’s book, Se­cret Sci­ence: The Amaz­ing World Be­yond Your Eyes. He chats to HE­LEN GLENNY

Focus-Science and Technology - - OUT THERE -

What mo­ti­vated you to start writ­ing for chil­dren?

I knew that this would be an in­ter­est­ing group to write for be­cause kids are nat­u­rally sci­en­tists. They ask ques­tions, they’re cu­ri­ous.

The ideal out­come is that when I’m sit­ting on a park bench feed­ing ducks in my later years, a woman in a white coat, lit­er­ally in a lab coat, walks past and says ‘Oh my god! I’m a sci­en­tist be­cause I read your books when I was a kid!’ This is ob­vi­ously a ridicu­lous leap. Why am I feed­ing ducks? Why is this woman still wear­ing her lab coat while walk­ing in the park? There are so many things wrong with this fan­tasy but the gen­eral gist is that hope­fully this stuff sticks with peo­ple.

What are the chal­lenges of writ­ing for chil­dren?

First of all, you’ve got to get stuff right. What you don’t want to do is re-in­vent the Bron­tosaurus. I loved the Bron­tosaurus when I was a kid, didn’t think about it for 15 years. Then I be­came a kids’ TV pre­sen­ter, and I said some­thing about the Bron­tosaurus and my col­league told me nope, there’s no Bron­tosaurus. It never ex­isted. Some­one put the wrong bone with the wrong hip, and we imag­ined a di­nosaur that isn’t there. Ac­tu­ally, there are now sug­ges­tions that it might be back, but it’s been in and out at least once. Sci­ence moves on, and you don’t want to be pro­mot­ing hal­fre­mem­bered stuff.

Sci­ence has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing nerdy and bor­ing – how do you tackle that?

Sure, there are parts of sci­ence where peo­ple are learn­ing things and they won’t un­der­stand why it’s im­por­tant un­til years later, and of course that’s bor­ing. But do­ing laps is bor­ing, and play­ing the foot­ball match is fun.

This book is about the in­vis­i­ble things in ev­ery­day life: hor­mones, elec­trons, bac­te­ria and forces, so we’re cover­ing loads of dif­fer­ent stuff. In the first chap­ter, I say ‘Lis­ten, some of this stuff won’t in­ter­est you. So skip it – there’s an­other bit com­ing up which will be more your thing’. Then at the end I ask ‘Okay, so which bits did you skip?’ Be­cause if you liked cer­tain bits, you could be­come a neu­ro­sci­en­tist, but if you liked other bits, you might be more into en­gi­neer­ing.

Also, I don’t be­lieve the word nerd is an in­sult any more. It has been co-opted by too many peo­ple who don’t de­serve it. Peo­ple say things like ‘I like Avengers; In­fin­ity War, there­fore I’m a nerd.’ No! You liked Star Wars? How unique.

I did four years of maths at univer­sity. I’m a nerd. You’re not a nerd be­cause you liked Luke Sky­walker. That term is a badge of hon­our, more than any­thing else.

What’s your favourite fact from the book?

I’m fond of the com­par­i­son that a giraffe sleeps for five min­utes and a lion sleeps for 18 hours. If ever there’s been a div­i­dend for be­ing a lion it’s that you can sleep for 18 hours, whereas a giraffe grabs sleep for five min­utes at a time.

Also, the air doesn’t cir­cu­late in a plane. A plane takes in air through the en­gine and then sweeps the air out through a hole at the back of the plane. So when you fart, the fart doesn’t stay in the plane.


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