November 30, 2004

The Enjoyment of Science

Madam, - Needing something soothing to peruse over breakfast this morning, I somewhat belatedly read William Reville's article about Science Week (Science Today, November 18th). Suddenly a sentence caught my eye, which caused me to splutter over my porridge: "Science is not fun," it read.

As a practising scientist for several decades, let me assure your readers that for many of us science (and especially chemistry) continues to be fun.

Dr Reville goes on to comment on the demonstration lecture - a form of presentation championed in the early days of the Royal Institution in London by Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday and taken into the television age by Laurence Bragg and George Porter.

These great scientists worked to convey the excitement and importance of the science of their day, engaging their audience by performing entertaining - and often memorable - experiments. It is this tradition that demonstration lecturers such as Randal Henly, John Daly and Declan Kennedy carry forward today here in Ireland.

If one reads the biographies of famous scientists one is struck by the importance they attach to their first exposure to the practice of science. Chemistry is a "hands-on" subject. If one cannot perform experiments oneself, then at least one can get a sense of the thrill of the subject through seeing skilled and entertaining practitioners carry out the experiments before one's eyes.

To repeat, science is fun. But don't just take my word for it. Put the dates September 5th to 9th 2005 into your diary - that's when the BA Festival of Science comes back to Dublin for a whole week of communicating interesting, important and, dare I say it, "fun" science. - Yours, etc.,

JOHN KELLY, Department of Chemistry, Trinity College, Dublin 2.