Inspire them to explore science with Professor Brian Cox

Primary Times teams up with Professor Brian Cox OBE to discuss the importance of science for children, his own childhood inspirations, and his exciting world tour ‘Universal: Adventures in Space and Time’

How did you first become interested in physics and astronomy? Was there a book or famous figure who sparked your passion? I was always interested in astronomy as far back as I remember, and I think the reason for that is it’s the simplest science. You can do it without anything, you can go out into your back garden and look at the stars, you can see the constellations change from month to month, you can see the planets shift into position. In terms of a famous figure, there was Carl Sagan who made his series Cosmos when I was 11. It was this idea that these points of light in the sky are other worlds. The great thing about astronomy is that it carries your imagination away and you will never learn everything there is to learn about the universe.

Our aim is to get the nation’s children inspired by science. For you, why is it important for children to take an interest? Science is above all else a way of thinking, it’s a way of celebrating curiosity. The central idea is that we don’t know everything. It’s often easy to be afraid of not knowing, when actually it’s the most exciting thing, because then you can go and find out. You might be the person who finds out for the first time whether there is life on Mars. I think that science teaches us to think, nature forces us to think in a particular way, and that’s the key educational value of science.

What advice would you give to children who are aspiring to work in science? I would say stay excited and stay curious. Understand that if you want to be a scientist you can be. It’s easy to think you have to be a strange genius to be a scientist. There’s a really famous story about Einstein going into a school and saying “When I was your age, I was no Einstein”.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your upcoming world tour ‘Universal: Adventures in Space and Time’? At one level it is huge, high-resolution screens showing these amazing pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope. But also, we simulated a black hole. We used the techniques that were used to develop the film Interstellar to simulate what it would be like to go and fly up to, orbit and dive into a black hole, and what we know about what happens. So, it is I hope a spectacular experience that’s also designed to make us think about our place in the universe.

What top tips could you give to parents who are trying to introduce science into their home for their children? Science is about doing science ultimately. You get excited about science by doing it, and that’s why I think astronomy is great. You can get one of those apps on your phone that show you what the stars are, you’d be surprised by how easy it is to recognise what that is in the sky. And I believe that’s what it is to deliver a little bit of wonder to your children. I can’t think of anything that’s easier and more rewarding than just that.

Professor Brian Cox’s tour, Universal, is on sale now

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