Four Way Interview - Hugh Aldersey-Williams - February 2011
Our four-way interviews
give a quick insight into the current thinking of a popular science author.
Aldersey-Williams studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge. He is the author of
several books exploring science, design and architecture, and has curated
exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Wellcome Collection. His
latest book is Periodic
Science is ultimately the
only way of knowing our world. It is also a major part of culture - not
something on one side from it or opposed to it as some scientists seem to think.
Anything I write about science will always be guided by that.
I feel we have lost touch -
often literally - with the elements. I wanted to give readers a real sense of
look and feel of the elements, their colours, their weight, their smells, their
sounds. It is through these qualities that most of us come to know the elements
far better than we think - not by crossing the threshold of a chemistry lab. In
other words, we know the elements culturally, through the way they've been
wrested from the ground, worked and traded.
I think chemistry as it is
taught can sometimes be its own worst enemy, and since giving readings of
Periodic Tales I've found people coming up to me complaining that their son
or daughter is having 'to do the periodic table' at school. Teaching this
artificial construct by rote, as if to equip a child for some trivia quiz, is a
To use some horrible
marketing-speak, I think chemistry's brand needs refreshing. It seems that
chemistry is losing popularity, but in fact what is happening is that its
thunder is being stolen by 'sexier' fields - environmental sciences,
nanotechnology, forensics, molecular biology etc. It doesn't really matter
though. The elements will always be there and we will always depend on them.
Too soon to tell. Probably
something that gives me an excuse to learn more about some area of science I
know even less about than chemistry.
exciting you at the moment?
My eleven-year-old son's
piano-playing. Where has it comes from?
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