It takes a special mind to be able to grasp and contribute to complex scientific concepts. But it takes an even more unique one to be able to make those concepts comprehensible and interesting to the rest of us.
Brian Cox has precisely that kind of mind.
A professor of particle physics, the British scientist has anchored several enormously popular television documentaries including Wonders of The Universe, earned a world record for the most tickets sold for a science tour (75,193) and is often credited with “making science sexy”.
It’s a badge he told Mamamia he’s happy to wear.
“If you look at the alternative to that, it’s to make science not sexy,” he laughed. “So if I were to ask myself, ‘Which one do you want to do?’, I’d rather make it sexy.”
The 49-year-old is currently in the country to co-host Stargazing Live with Julia Zemiro on the ABC.
The three-part program, beamed from the Siding Spring Observatory in rural NSW, has a very simple aim: to encourage Australians to look up.
"We’ve all lay down on our backs and looked up at the night sky away from the city lights. It’s a very beautiful thing," Prof Cox said. "But it becomes more beautiful when you know a little bit about what you’re looking at.”
The program will allow viewers to ask questions of him and other experts live, and will even invite them to participate in the search for distant planets.
"Some viewers will discover a planet that nobody has ever seen before,” he said. “Somebody at home will know something that nobody has ever known before. That’s why people do science, actually.”
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More than mere entertainment, Prof Cox argues, programs like this play a role in combating the disturbing trend toward 'post-truth'; toward a world in which people will perceive the theory of a layperson to hold as much weight as that of a scientist.
“The actual answer to this ‘post-fact’ world is education," he said. "I think the most important thing we do now as adults is to educate children; it has to be."
As the father of a seven-year-old son, he knows there's a crucial window in which to harness children's natural curiosity.
"We all know that our children are interested in everything and excited about the world. So it’s about nurturing that, not extinguishing it - very important," he said.
Especially so for young girls, he argued, as they are the untapped part of the talent pool when it comes to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. (According to a report released last year by Australia's Chief Scientist, just 16 per cent of people with STEM qualifications are women.)
“There is no difference, at very young ages, in the in excitement and motivation and aptitude for science between girls and boys," he said. "But what seems to happen is that there’s a bias - probably unconscious - among teachers and parents.
"There’s some evidence that parents sort of accidentally, without meaning to, can put off girls from going into physics and engineering.”
The moment to prevent this, he argues, is at the very beginning. The moment when your daughter first expresses an interest in astronomy or bridge-building, or whatever it may be.
“Your reaction is absolutely critical to encouraging her to continue along that path," he said. "I think that’s really difficult. So parents need to understand their responsibility."
After that, he argued, it's about doing the best you can to give them the tools to foster that interest.
"That’s what actually science is," he added. "It’s the tools by which you prolong indefinitely your childhood fascination with the world and nature."
Stargazing Live airs 8:30pm AEST April 4,5 and 6, on ABC and iView.