I attended a very academic boys’ grammar school. The science teachers – all men – illustrated their lessons with experiments in front of the class. Some were very exciting – a strong glass bottle was filled with hydrogen and oxygen, and a very loud and satisfying explosion occurred when a lighted taper was applied to the open mouth of the bottle.
We did lots of practical work ourselves in the school laboratories. And I had an extensive chemistry set at home chosen by my father, a research director. We burned magnesium wire, distilled mercury from mercuric oxide, ignited gun cotton, and made our own fireworks. I was inspired by the rigour of studying physics and chemistry, and carrying out some of the fundamental experiments myself rather than having them demonstrated to me. My four sons, all engineers, were brought up in the same tradition.
I have made several science-based television series, such as The Great Egg Race and Take Nobody’s Word for It, in which people were encouraged to do experiments themselves. Viewing figures were in excess of three million on BBC2, and I still get letters from viewers who decided to study engineering as a result of watching the programmes.
Ian Fells is coauthor of Global Warming: A Guide to Market-Based Controls on the Energy Sector (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)), and coeditor of Energy for the Future (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).