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Dr Mark Lythgoe
director of the Biomedical Imaging Centre at University College London, and neurophysiologist and senior lecturer in radiology and physics at the Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children


There is no doubt that I took sciences at school, not because I was great at science, but because I was crap at the arts and humanities. Yet despite this rather dim view of my early years, I can now see that I was always a bit of a systemiser. I loved stripping down my motorbike to see how it worked, making hydrogen in my bedroom, and pyrotechnics in the back garden.

Despite being a closet scientist, I failed all of my A-levels, and didn’t get to go to university. For years, I never thought about science, yet always felt that I could do more with my life than working as a dog trainer in Israel. Then, via a series of happenstance events, I ended up getting a research job at the Department of Nuclear Medicine at Great Ormond St Hospital. I loved it.

Here, I found the Haynes Manual for the human body. I started to see things that nobody else had ever seen. I’d finally found a world in which I could use my innate systemising traits. Now it all seems like the science of the bleedin’ obvious, but the world around me – and me inside it – were held together by rules and laws that could be unravelled using this science stuff.

I fought and struggled my way onto a PhD. It was better than I ever imagined – all of those hows and whys, which my mother had explained to me via a combination of Mancunian folklore and Catholic faith, were finally revealed in the infinite and wondrous detail that only science can show and tell.

So what was my inspiration to take up science? Certainly not some role model on TV, or a good teacher - although I wish it had been, as my route would have been far less circuitous. Somehow, I feel as though I was born to do science. Luckily for me, I found my own way there.

Mark Lythgoe is coauthor of Mapping Perception (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)), and a contributor to Science, Not Art: Ten Scientists’ Diaries (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)). See his website.