Scientific Laboratory Show & Conference 2018

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Dallas Campbell - Science for the many, not the few

26 April 2018

I'm not a scientist, but I have a natural curiosity about nature and the universe, and how it all works. I've always loved it; I grew up watching Tomorrow's World, Carl Sagan, and The Ascent of Man with Jacob Bronowski, and remember being absolutely blown away. I was too young to really appreciate it, but it was that sense of exploration, adventure, discovery and wonder. That is what science is about, and that's the thing that has always grabbed me. 

Culturally, we tend to think that only scientists are allowed to like science, which is very odd. Nobody would assume that I was a musician just because I was listening to music, or think I was a film director as I walked out of a cinema after watching a film. And yet, somehow, we have this very odd perception of science as being a thing that only scientists do, which is a terrible shame. Science is just another part of culture that we should embrace.  

Some people think science is a collection of knowledge, of facts, but in fact it’s nothing like that. It’s all about the method. The method is so much more important than the results, and it's what I like to focus on. Not understanding something is what drives science, and mistakes and openness lead to even more discoveries. In everything I do, I try to help people understand that science is often the opposite of what they think it is. 

I think the role of science broadcasters of all stripes is to wake people up, to remind them of just what an extraordinary adventure we're on. I don't pretend to be a scientist, I just try to make programmes that aren't boring. I tell stories and try to rekindle that sense of awe. 

Science is as much a part of our culture as anything else, and everyone should be encouraged to understand the basic principles. I'm involved in a big festival called Bluedot at Jodrell Bank Observatory that does this very well. This big media, arts and science festival is all about integrating science as part of our culture, not treating it as something separate.

I’ve taken this approach in my latest book Ad Astra: an illustrated guide to leaving the planet, which is a history of mankind’s quest to leave the planet, but also very much a cultural look at space and why human beings have this urge to explore. It’s also about human imagination; we've evolved with this great ability to dream of leaving the planet but, unfortunately, our bodies haven't – so we're kind of stuck here! However, our quest through science, engineering, art and music – and all facets of human culture – are beautifully shown on the canvas of spaceflight, and that's why I chose it. As a guidebook to leaving the planet, it's pretty terrible – it's more a history and philosophy. 

I've spent quite a lot of time with astronauts and, although I wish I could say I would go up into space myself, I think in reality I’d be terrible! I would be absolutely fine to blast off in a rocket and survive, until something went wrong, and then I would start panicking! 

See Dallas’s full presentation on at 2pm on Wednesday the 23rd of May at the East Midlands Conference Centre at the University of Nottingham. In the meantime, take a look around the website, explore the range of exhibitors attending and look out for seminars and workshops that you want to attend. And you can always keep up with the latest news on Twitter – follow @SciLabShow and #SciLabShow2018.

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