Mobile version
spiked plus
About spiked
What is spiked?
Support spiked
spiked shop
Contact us
Summer school
Top issues
Arab uprisings
British politics
Child abuse panic
For Europe, Against the EU
Free speech
Jimmy Savile scandal
Parents and kids
View all issues...
special feature
The Counter-Leveson Inquiry
other sections
 Review of Books
 Monthly archive
selected authors
Duleep Allirajah
Daniel Ben-Ami
Tim Black
Jennie Bristow
Sean Collins
Dr Michael Fitzpatrick
Frank Furedi
Helene Guldberg
Patrick Hayes
Mick Hume
Rob Lyons
Brendan O’Neill
Nathalie Rothschild
James Woudhuysen
more authors...
RSS feed

abc def ghi jkl mno pqrs tuv wxyz index
Survey home
First thoughts
Final thoughts
Survey responses
RSS feed
Michael Baum
Gustav Born
K Eric Drexler
Marcus du Sautoy
Harold Kroto
Paul Lauterbur
Leon Lederman
Bernard Lovell
Sophie Petit-Zeman
Ingo Potrykus
Jack Pridham
Simon Singh
Jack Steinberger
Jack Pridham
editor of Chemo-Philia, and emeritus professor of biochemistry at Royal Holloway, University of London

It is very probable that had I been born 60 years later, I would not have been inspired to take up science. My motivation started at primary school age, and came at a time when children, their parents and their teachers were not governed or particularly worried by health and safety considerations and an attendant legal profession. Consequently, as a child I was free to pursue scientific activities – some of which, today, would attract the attention of antiterrorist officers. This was a stimulating environment, which bred many scientists and preceded any understanding I had of scholarship and research.

My inspiration came from three main sources.

  1. My father was an expert in many practical subjects, and had a fully equipped workshop that I was free to use from a very early age. He also encouraged me to set up a home laboratory. Chemicals were freely available from the local pharmacy.
  2. Inspiration came from a primary school where, unusually, there was a teacher with extracurricular leanings in year four, supported by a cupboard packed with fascinating scientific equipment.
  3. Finally, there was the grammar school where – despite wartime staffing problems – my earlier interests, particularly in chemistry, were reinforced by an extensive and very varied programme of practical work.

The basic driving force behind all of this was excitement. I became addicted to flashes and bangs, not forgetting unusual odours. I was always wondering what would happen if you added A to B, heated C, or ignited D, preferably in a sealed tube.

Today, most people seem to invoke the precautionary principle. They insist that it is highly irresponsible to allow scientific inquisitiveness to flourish at the practical level, either at school or at university, without the most stringent precautions. Together with the attendant paperwork, this has all but taken away the environment of my youth. The product of today’s education, having been shielded from anything remotely dangerous, is not really equipped to deal with unexpected laboratory events.