Irish comedian and presenter Dara O’Briain is back for another series of shows aimed at making science fun. He tells James Croot about his Science Club and the red-and-white army he belongs to.

Where did the idea for Dara O’Briain’s Science Club come from?

TV. It was a BBC Science programme I had done with Brian Cox – a live astronomy programme called Stargazing Live. There were kind of late-night discussions after that because it became this huge hit and we thought we could do this kind of bright breezy, direct but informed approach to a general science show.

How much swot do you do for each topic?

The briefs come piling in a day or two before the show, so there’s a proper day of just trying to soak the brain in robotics and microbiology and the distant recesses of the electromagnetic spectrum or whatever. Pages and pages of these things arrive and it’s not that you commit them to memory but you want a general sense of them so you don’t ask stupid questions.

What would your specialist subject on Mastermind be?

I’ve never found one subject, unfortunately I think I’m a generalist. A friend of mine did the Ghostbusters films and that’s disgraceful – that was just spoiling the brand, you know.

What’s the largest science issue now facing humanity?

It’s difficult to say. There are a number of them. There are things that we are running out of – whether it’s helium or rare earth minerals, and as India and China become more middle-class, and they want the same lifestyle that America has, we will find it has a massive effect on our resources. Obviously climate change is a very, very, huge one. Another one that’s going to affect us is that we are going to run out of antibiotics, because we basically have had no new antibiotics since 1987 and the ones we have are becoming less powerful, so there may be a massive public health issue. I’m delighted to say that all of these are discussed on the show. The other one is how we handle the aging population.

In Japan, they’re devising robots in order to help take care of the elderly because they have such a significant proportion of elderly people in the population. There is a debate to be had over how old we actually want to get. In physics, it’s how much money do we actually want to spend to find out intangible things that are more and more difficult to hunt down. Are we going to put our energy into untestable theories?

What’s been your favourite experiment on the show so far and why?

There’s one where if you put a block of Perspex into a particle accelerator you can charge it so it’s filled with rounded electrons. It’s sitting in stasis like super-saturated orange drink. Then what you do is you take a hammer, like a masonry bit, and you hit it and that shock creates essentially a reverse bolt of lightning. It creates a path for all these electrons that come firing up and you get a flash of lightning within the Perspex that leaves this trail, like a tree or a fern, within the Perspex. For two hours afterwards you can see all the electrons suddenly finding their way to it and burning little paths in order to run their way up to escape. It’s so hot that it burns the Perspex into plasma and the jet of plasma shoots out at the top and it gives an escape route for all the electrons. You create this amazing-looking thing, that I have sitting at home – we all grabbed one after the show – it’s a gorgeous-looking thing.

Who would you most like to have on the show and why?

[Stephen] Hawking we all want, everyone wants Hawking. It’s a difficult one to arrange, it has to be worked out in advance – the questions and all that. I’ve met him once, I went out on the booze with him, it was a very strange night – me, Hawking and Benedict Cumberbatch, so me, Sherlock and Stephen Hawking in a bar in London. But, really anyone working with interesting ideas, we want to meet them. There are about three guests over the course of the series that somebody’s quietly said after the interview: “You know they’re probably going to win a Nobel prize for that”.

Finally, the science of football. What does Arsenal need to do to win the title this season?

They need to maintain the compact structure they had towards the final games of the season last year but possibly with greater incision and attack. We have money for the first time and as an Arsenal fan I’m sick of hearing people go: “Oh, well – you haven’t won any trophies.” It’s like Christopher Wren saying: “If you wish to see my monument look around you, in St Paul’s Cathedral.”

If you want to see Arsenal’s trophy from last season look at the Emirates Stadium. I’m an unashamed fan of Arsene Wenger – he has built a fabulous 60,000-seater stadium and has managed to keep the team competitive.

When people discuss him it’s like he decided to be frugal as opposed to that he has mortgage payments of a million a year or whatever. They think that it was his choice and they ignored the fact that this huge building was built.

This is the first year that we will see this turn in the right direction and then in five years time, god knows where we will be.

Competing with billionaires is always going to be difficult but the hope is that fair play will level the field. I think we’re not far off, we just need to be able to compete with the big boys and I was in Munich in March when we beat Munich 2-0 and you could just see the confidence coursing through the team.

Dara O’Briain’s Science Club Wednesdays, 7.30pm, BBC Knowledge.

Source- © Fairfax NZ News


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