Norwich Science Festival: The show that will tell you absolutely everything... well, almost
- Credit: Norwich Science Festival
If you want to know absolutely everything, look no further. Ahead of their headline show at Norwich Science Festival, Dr Hannah Fry and Dr Adam Rutherford tell us about the challenges of writing a book about everything, and how they’re looking for volunteers to be electrocuted when they come to Norwich.
You’re well-known as a duo for your incredible ‘Curious cases’ podcast, but now you’ve published your first book together, Rutherford & Fry’s Complete Guide To Absolutely Everything *Abridged – how did you find the experience?
ADAM: It was three years in the making, at least three missed deadlines, at least two near lethal experiences... genuinely.
HANNAH: The problem we discovered is that when you are trying to write a book about everything, I mean, that’s quite a big remit, isn’t it?
We really wanted this book to be a humorous collection of the irreverent science stories that we’ve collected over the years. But at the same time, we didn’t want this to be a book of trivia. What we wanted was it to be something that actually had a really ambitious undertaking of looking at how we understand the world.
And so, putting those two things together, something that is light and fluffy on the surface, but doesn’t shy away from subjects like free will, that was pretty hard.
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The book must have been fun to research. Give us your favourite facts from the book…
HANNAH: I like the fact that Columbus changed his mind about whether the earth was round, basically because he got his sums wrong and didn’t work out where the North Star was in the sky.
But he wrote a letter to the king of Spain, in which he says that he changed his mind and that the earth couldn’t be round after all, it must be shaped like a pear, and at the end of the pear must be something akin to a woman’s nipple. He decided that by sailing up the nipple you were getting closer to heaven.
ADAM: Which we should point out to the good people of Norwich, is not scientifically verifiable.
One of my favourite discoveries is that, in the 16th century, Pope Gregory the something – one of the pope Gregorys, there’s been loads of Gregs over the years –worked out that the calendar was 10 days out from the annual cycle of the earth going around the sun in the 15th century.
So, when formulating the Gregorian calendar, he basically deleted 10 days from the year. I think it was in 1582, the day after the 4th of October, was the 15th of October – 10 days just completely gone.
What can we expect from your Norwich Science Festival show?
HANNAH: We have actually been plotting and planning it today.
ADAM: I think we may electrocute some of you.
HANNAH: There is a small plan to electrocute somebody, although we shouldn’t say that in advance, otherwise people won’t volunteer.
ADAM: Don’t print that! We’re definitely not going to electrocute anyone.
HANNAH: We will shock and surprise you though!
ADAM: I should also point out that I’m from Ipswich, and so I’m expecting the audience to be extremely hostile to my existence, let alone anything else.
Like never before, science has become central to our everyday life – it seems a good time to promote its potential and get more people interested. Why are events like this so important?
ADAM: We love talking to live audiences, and we haven’t done it a lot in the last couple of years, for obvious reasons.
If we can convey 50pc of the enthusiasm and love that we have for these subjects to the next generation, or to anyone who’s even vaguely interested in finding out how the world works, rather than how we perceive it to be, then we’ve done our job.
HANNAH: I think that humanity is at a point in time where all of the greatest problems we face – things like climate change, access to water, access to food – are ultimately scientific problems. And it’s not possible to overstate the value that science gives to not just us as individuals, but society as a whole.
Any event that really promotes this subject and encourages a new generation of people to get involved and interested in it, I think that’s no bad thing.
Rutherford & Fry’s Complete Guide To Absolutely Everything *Abridged will take place on Saturday, October 30, 7.30-8.30pm at UEA, Lecture Theatre 1. Tickets cost £27.50, or £42.99 for a ticket and a signed book. Book at norwichsciencefestival.co.uk