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Meet the Rough Scientists

Carriacou Interview: Jonathan Hare

Jonathan Hare

What do you do?
I am a science communicator but I'm also a researcher.

How and why did you end up working in science?
When I was much younger I had real problems reading and writing, and spelling particularly, so I got into subjects where there was a lot of drawing and making things. Science is full of diagrams and things so I loved those. So I think that's one of the reasons why I was drawn to science.

Were there any figures that inspired you to work in science?
Yeah, there definitely are some inspirational figures in science. I think Faraday, Michael Faraday, Rutherford, and also inventors like Kessler, they were amazing. What they did with just Rough Science type stuff, bits of wire and sealing wax and glass. Rutherford discovered the nucleus of the atom, right, billions of times smaller than an apple, billions and billions just with bits of glass, sealing wax. So they're really inspirational.

Who in science do you admire today?
It depends what you call science but I look to the way people are thinking, people like Edward de Bono. Inspirational people.

If you weren't a scientist, what do you think you would have done instead?
If I wasn't a scientist now I think I'd probably would have been tending more towards engineering, perhaps a radio engineer or a mechanic, although, of course, that's next to science.

How would you define the differences between the scientific theory and Rough Science practice — what problems are you encountering?
Well, of course, in theory it's just up to your imagination what you start with. You can start with the numbers and the formula, whatever. Here we're very much limited by the resources that we've got available to us so there's quite difference between the basic theory and Rough Science. So I suppose the main challenges are the time that you've got. You can think about theory for years but here you've only got three days, the basic bits available and things like the heat and all that sort of thing.

Do you see the problems in terms of the individual scientific disciplines, or do you need a more holistic approach?
I think that challenges at Rough Science are quite demanding, so you've got to use the materials that are available, and so that might involve electrics with coils. It might for the same challenge involve rubber bands and pressure and glassware. So yeah, I think you've got to use whatever piece of knowledge you have. And in the end science, well knowledge, isn't really in measurable buckets of physics/chemistry — there's no division really — so there's no other thing apart from a holistic approach really.

What have you learned?
I think in a situation like Rough Science, the thing that you learn straight away is that it's worth giving something a try, so even if it's unlikely, it's quite good just to give it a go and see what happens.

Are you concerned about any recent scientific issues?
I think the biggest thing that concerns me is the pace at which things are being done, and I think in the past there was a period when a discovery had been made and people would have perhaps twenty or thirty years to get used to it and understand it and then move on. Now it's just happening so quickly.

Why is science important? Why should we bother trying to understand it?
Science is important because it's a human effort trying to understand the world and how it works. Science of a thousand years' time will be different from the science now. But obviously to try and understand the world you live in with the tools and the thinking that you've got at the time is the best thing to do. So that's why it's important.

How is science fun?
I like making things and there's an incredible scope for making things in science, so it's fun from that point of view. But also the other thing about scientific discovery is that the very opposite of what you think can happen happens, and that can be really mindnumbing and brain scratching, until you understand why. But there's always little twists in the tail of nature which is really exciting.

What do you think is the largest impediment to scientific advances at present?
I think one of the things that's a bit worrying, or a bit sad, is that if you look at the science from a hundred or two hundred years' ago, there's an awful lot of empirical science. In other words, there's a lot of science that was done, you got a result and you changed something. You got another result and you amassed a lot of data and there's a lot of skill involved in getting it. I think there's less empirical science now, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I think all that wisdom, all that knowledge is being lost, and that's just a shame. It's not really an impediment to science but people will probably reinvent the wheel again and again.

How does the Media affect scientific research?
I think the worse case about the Media is that they always want a story. But sometimes there's not much of a story. A scientific result or discovery can be amazing but there may not be a story attached to it. I think the Media's always looking for a story and that can present problems in the way later on people understand the science, I think.

On a day-to-day basis, what scientific discovery do you find essential?
I think that the scientific discovery which I find essential in life, people find essential and perhaps we don't realise is probably electricity — mobile phones, telephones, lighting, heating, you know, the list goes on and on and on and on. So electricity — our modern world runs on electricity.

What do you find hardest to cope with in your job as a scientist?
I think the problems that you face with science are the problems everyone faces — deadlines, having to read a vast amount of literature and try and trawl through it to find the piece of information you want. So the social things that are difficult in every job. I think it's the same in science.

What would you really like to be good at?
Given another opportunity I'd like to be a musician or a painter.

What's the difference between art and science?
I think the difference between art and science is in the way people perceive it. I don't think there is any difference because I don't think there's any separation between subjects. Something to do with our educational system or something to do with the way that we think helps us to block things up but there isn't any difference in the end.

If you were to make a scientific discovery and become very rich, what would you do with the cash?
I would probably do what I'm doing and that is trying to teach kids to make things through science but also have the time available to follow up other things that I'm interested in such as painting and drawing.