I am an Australian scientist, living half the year in England and half in Australia (guess which half!). I specialize in food, biophysics, and nano-engineering, although in my time I have also been involved in mining engineering, fundamental physics, future forecasting and philosophy. While I am still involved in fundamental research, I am now primarily a writer, speaker and broadcaster, working to make science accessible by showing how scientists think about the problems of everyday life. In recent times, I have focused on showing how scientists think about the important issues that confront us, and on how we can make the best decisions in this complex world (see, for example, my “Ockham’s Razor” programme on Australian radio about the problems of social decision-making). To date this has been mainly through articles, broadcasts, and blog posts (especially my series of Mini Stories from Science), but I am now developing two exciting new book projects (well, exciting to me, and I hope exciting to you when they come out).
I have made many radio and television appearances worldwide, including three series for BBC Radio 4 (The Science of DIY, The Sweet Spot and Redesigning the Body), and quite a few Ockham’s Razor programmes for Radio National in Australia. I have also written numerous feature articles for U.K. newspapers, including two series for the Guardian on The Science of Cooking and a number of full-page feature articles for the Daily Mail. On the other side of the coin, I have frequently made media headlines through light-hearted projects on how scientists tackle the questions of everyday life. These projects have included the physics of biscuit dunking (which led to the award of an IgNobel Prize at Harvard University), the absorption of gravy by a roast dinner (which led to my being voted by The Times as “an enemy of the people”), whether hot or cold water freezes faster in a bird bath in winter (demonstrated live on the BBC Radio 4 “Today” programme), the formula for the perfect cheese sandwich, and how best to stir porridge. I have twice been a speaker at London’s Royal Institution, and I am a regular speaker at the annual Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, where I am also a member of the advisory board.
My best-selling book How to Dunk a Doughnut: The Science of Everyday Life (2002) was translated into eleven languages, and resulted in my election as “Science Writer of the Year” by the American Institute of Physics.
More recently, I have focused my attention on serious social and global issues, first with a book Weighing the Soul: The Evolution of Scientific Ideas (2004), which was concerned with showing how science actually works, and then with a trilogy about the role of science in addressing the major problems that we now face: Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life (2008) (on the problem of cooperation); The Perfect Swarm: The Science of Complexity in Everyday Life (2009) (on making decisions in complex situations); and Crashes, Crises and Calamities: How We Can Use Science to Read the Early-Warning Signs (2011) (on predicting and dealing with sudden and sometimes catastrophic change in economies, nature and society).
These books led to invitations to become actively involved in several new areas. I have written an invited chapter in a textbook on counseling and psychotherapy (on the role of game theory in human interactions), and have become involved in the area of crisis prediction and management, most notably with the Swiss-based International Risk Governance Council – a body particularly concerned with the development of policies for coping with slow-moving social, economic and ecological risks that may have catastrophic consequences in the long term.
Following an IRGC-sponsored meeting in Venice between scientists and senior policy makers (August, 2011), I wrote a report “Preparing for Future Catastrophes” that laid down the principles of planning for future action.As can be seen from my list of selected publications, my focus has been very much on the understanding and development of resilience, with a particular emphasis on future global food supplies. I have been involved in meetings between scientists and government ministers to help work out how to implement these principles in practice.
My Ockham’s Razor programmes Coping with Life’s Surprises and “Einstein’s Socks” (http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/einstein’s-socks/7388072) were aimed to bring these issues to more general public attention (see also website section “Coping with Future Catastrophes”).