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Dr Sharon Ann Holgate
science writer and broadcaster

The Man from UNCLE and a finger puppet inspired me to take up science.

The latter came first, inspiring my earliest science experiment. I was four years old, and watching an episode of the children’s TV programme Fingerbobs. Crow was desperate to drink some water in the bottom of a large beaker, but couldn’t reach it. Fortunately for the thirsty puppet, there was a pile of pebbles nearby, and he began dropping them one by one into the beaker until the water level rose enough for him to start drinking.

I just had to see this happening for myself, and so I dragged my mother into the garden to collect some stones. I can still vividly recall the sense of wonder I felt, standing in the kitchen dropping the stones into our measuring jug, and watching the water level rising.

By the time I was a teenager, my viewing habits had mutated into sitting glued to old episodes of The Man from UNCLE from the 1960s. The attraction was not just the delectable Robert Vaughn, playing Napoleon Solo, but wanting desperately to be like David McCullum’s character – the super-cool Russian agent Illya Kuryakin, who had a PhD in physics and a black belt in karate.

So have I achieved my goal? Well, I don’t have a black belt in karate. But I am a doctor of physics, and strangers at parties keep telling me that’s pretty cool.

Sharon Ann Holgate is coauthor of The Way Science Works (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)). See her website.