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Dr Andrew Pontzen

Andrew Pontzen is a research fellow at Oxford Astrophysics and Balliol College.  His work covers theoretical cosmology and galaxy formation in computational cosmology.  He is also a science communicator who performs songs about the universe.

We shouldn’t think of science as a big infallible edifice.

On getting into science

I first got interested in science when I was in school.  I was lucky enough to have some really great physics teachers in particular and that has sort of been what I’ve turned my career into, physics.  I don’t think I ever really wanted to do physics as a career, I wasn’t that interested in science, but then I went to university to do a degree, because that’s sort of seemed like a sensible thing to do, and then I just somehow never left.

On my science icon

So I kind of have a, well, there’s this guy called Everett and he came up with this amazing idea that quantum mechanics which, up till Everett tackled it, had seemed to be this odd thing that, or where, physical objects could change their nature just when you looked at them.  Everett came up with this idea that, actually, that wasn’t necessary, if you allowed there to be an infinity of parallel worlds.  So, for the relatively small cost of an infinity of parallel universes you can get a much nicer picture of the way physics works.  But ah, he’s, he’s sort of my icon but I do worry a little bit about saying that he is my icon because it sounds like he was a thoroughly nasty man.

On the joy of science

The joy of science is the look on your mum’s face when you tell her you’ve just made a new…no, look, it’s just getting to know the world around you, really.  It’s a way to find out more about what the hell’s going on.  It’s just sort of intrinsically joyful.  Joy-ey.  Joyous.

And I think the more people tune into science and get engaged with it as a sort of cultural activity, the better.  I don’t think it takes anything away, the more people get interested in it, at all.  And then I don’t think there’s any sort of danger of people attacking science more in any sort of unjustified way, I think, I mean, you know, we shouldn’t think of science as a big infallible edifice that shouldn’t be attacked.  There are times when it’s absolutely right that people get involved in and attack science if it’s for good reason.  So, no, I don’t think the increasing popularity of science presents any sort of danger.

On relating to discovery

It’s definitely tricky because so much gets hidden away, I mean, ironically the sort of…as science progresses, and engineering especially that sits on the back of science and progresses, that actual science that you’re using gets more and more hidden away.  If you use a gas lamp it’s kind of obvious that you’re burning something, that you’re using gas and somebody’s had to get that gas and then you switch to an electric lamp and suddenly there’s something kind of hidden away about it and then, you know, you switch to an LED and it’s even more mysterious.  And phones, you know, it gets more and more mysterious so it is kind of odd the way it’s self defeating, or it hides itself more and more away, it’s really exciting on one level but it does present a bit of a paradox I guess.

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