Dara O Briain

Dara O Briain: On Dara

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In the first of four blogs from The Times Cheltenham Science Festival Guest Director Dara O Briain, the comedian, presenter and theoretical physics graduate talks about his childhood love of science, having a nerdy house and gushing at Stephen Hawking …

On meeting Stephen Hawking…

I met Stephen Hawking once, and spoke to his daughter afterwards at the same event, who said how awkward it was for him that people didn’t ever know what to say to him and they were just really gushing. And I went, “Oh” because I’d just spent all my time saying (puts on gushing voice) “Aah – that was an amazing book, and it had an enormous effect on my life”, and you know, just ran away. So it wouldn’t go down as one of the great meetings of minds: the guy who just gushed and then ran away!

On becoming a scientist…

I was hugely into relativity, so if I’d have gone into anything, it would have been relativity and cosmology: the more abstract end of astronomy and stargazing. I’d have been one of the guests that we bring on at the end [of Stargazing] to completely befuddle people about the shape of the universe. I don’t think that science’s loss was comedy’s gain per se.

On university…

A professor said “We’ll miss you” when I left. “You have a tremendous flair in your mathematics.” And I don’t know whether that was an insult or not! I suspect that it might have been and I doubt that they mourned my departure very much… I was fine but I was wayward, and I clearly wanted to run away to the circus.

On family…

I’d love to bring my own family to a Science Festival, though they’re a little small now. We’ve got to the teaching models of organs, things where you can take all the organs out and put them back in again, there’s a number of them lying about and a lot of that kind of stuff around. It’s going to be a very nerdy house! My last birthday was space themed, you know, with astronomy and stuff. They’re not going to miss this stuff: it’s going to be one of those kinds of houses.

On scientific heroes…

Einstein and Bohr I think would be the two. Quantum mechanics, Copenhagen interpretations and huge debates. There’s lots of pictures of the two of them looking very serious, in the 30s, quarrelling about quantum mechanics. And Feynman, not just for the science but for his gift for communication –they’d have been wonderful people to have met. Marie Curie too.

On un-sung heroes…

Rosalind Franklin and Nicola Tesla are two scientists who are greatly regarded as being over-looked, and we could set the record straight on a number of issues. What would I ask them? Rosalind Franklin, Nicola Tesla, did you get the credit you deserved? And explain to me what the universe is like! What space and time is! And being dead, they might know more: either they’d be worm food, or they’d have been granted all knowledge, so either way…. I think I’m more in the worm food philosophy myself by the way.

Want to hear more from Dara? In his second blog he tells us about what he loves at the Festival, being a professional bluffer and getting angry about video games…

Dara O Briain appears in four events at The Times Cheltenham Science Festival; Coding the Game, Peter Higgs in Conversation with Dara O Briain, Dara O Briain: School of Hard Sums and Dara O Briain’s Science Club .

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