Rebecca Nesbit: Because we like eating cake

Rebecca Nesbit studied butterfly migration at Rothamsted Research for her PhD, which involved using radars and ‘flight simulators’ to work out how Painted Ladies travel between north Africa and the UK. She now blogs at The birds, the bees and feeding the world

Science is important because …. I like cake

Back in the times of hunting and gathering, when wisdom teeth were to replace ones we’d already lost, when food, shelter, firewood and medicine all came from the forest or the plains, science was rather different. We needed to know some engineering to make hunters’ weapons; we needed to understand some biology to know when different plants would be ready to eat.

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Peter Madelaine: Excitement, Fascination, Intrigue, Discovery

Peter Madelaine is retired and studying Maths, Physics and Astronomy at The Open University. He is an active astronomer and is involved in public outreach. Before retiring, Peter worked in the software industry and was a university lecturer in computing.

I’m 68, and I’m studying for a degree at the Open University. All being well, I will be 70 when I get my degree. My friends think I’m mad. Most people, of my age, are “hanging up their boots” and looking forward to a life of leisure. Not only that, I’m studying Maths, Physics and Astronomy! The other day, I declined a golf game, to concentrate on an assessment. My friend asked: “Why do you put yourself under this pressure?” It’s a good question, I suppose.

“Show me the boy before he is seven, and I will show you the man”. (Actually I believe psychologists think the age is nearer ten, but the principle appears established.) At the age of eight, I was recognised as a potential mathematician, and by then I had decided that I wanted to be a scientist and/or inventor. I got the latter, not from school, but from my parents.

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Sylvia McLain: 'discoveries' come from the most unexpected places

Dr. Sylvia McLain has been a field biologist, a fisheries field technician, a English teacher in China, an evolutionary biology technician, a high school science teacher, an inorganic chemist, a condensed matter physicist and is currently pharmaceutical science research fellow at King’s College London. She also blogs at Girl, Interrupting about science, politics and other things that come to mind.

I have worked in many areas of science, from conservation field biology to condensed matter physics. The single most common questions I have been asked across all disciplines are ‘Why is this important?’, ‘Why should I care?’ or even sometimes ‘Why do my taxes pay for this?’

We live in a technological age where there is often a misconception about the difference between science and technology and this is one of the sources of the question ‘Why is this useful?’. Societally we, perhaps, see things as useful only if they improve our lives in the short term: a bigger faster computer, a cure to cancer, a cheaper faster way to deliver electricity.

Often what is missing in this in this picture is the science that goes on behind it. Scientific progress is not linear and not very predictable, and is not connected with technology in a straight-forward manner. We know so little about the natural and physical world around us and science is a way to answer these questions one tiny step at at time. As scientists on a fundamental level, we increase, albeit very slowly, the knowledge of the world, which is, in its on right a beautiful and useful thing. And important leaps forward that do change our lives often occur as an off-shoot of science.

All technology is based on science. And the way that science evolves to technology is always a variegated path. Without Thomson searching for fundamental components of atoms and discovering the electron, we wouldn’t have electronics. Without Tim Berners-Lee we wouldn’t have the internet communication we find so useful today. Thomson wasn’t looking at making a model cell phone and Tim Berners-Lee was a CERN physicist that was only concerned with sharing data between scientists at different places around the world. But look at the benefits. Even if you try to do directed research to build technology, the structure of science is such that ‘discoveries’ come from the most unexpected places.

And this is, in part, why I am fascinated by science and why, even on the smallest level, it’s a part of being human. Humans have the capacity to ask WHY? Even the question of why is this important? is reflective of this and science is one way of answering the question why? about the physical and natural world. And that is a an amazing, uniquely human thing.

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Martin Budden: it encourages us to question authority

Martin Budden is a software architect. He has spent most of his working life riding the roller coaster of the microprocessor revolution. As one of the original developers of the Symbian operating system his code is in hundreds of millions of mobile phones. He thinks science is useful, but that its utility is only a minor part of why it is important.

Science is important because the act of doing science is a creative process. All creative processes are important, be they art, music, storytelling or anything else. After love, creativity is the most important human quality. Not only is science creative, it enables creation.

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Mark Jones: A Lesson Plan

Mark Jones is a Philosophy graduate now teaching Science at a Pupil Referral Unit in Hertfordshire. Mark taught Science at secondary schools for 15 years and has just completed an SASP course improving his Physics credentials at the East of England Science Learning Centre.

This is my suggested outline of a plan for a lesson early on in Year 10, when you may have students who do not particularly see the value of Science

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Tim Jones: An Exquisite Corpse of why science is important

Tim Jones is a freelance science communicator with a diverse background in research and business. In 2008, Tim left a senior strategy position in industry to return to his roots and focus fully on sharing his broad interests in science and technology. Supporting that, he is now in the final stages of the Masters programme in Science Communication at Imperial College. Tim lives in London with his American wife Erin.

It’s very easy to put people into boxes: ‘public’, ‘media’, ‘scientists’. In April, I set out with my colleagues Arko Olesk and Graham Paterson to better understand the similarities and differences in how these supposedly distinct groups view science.

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Laura Goodall: because it creates wonderful new opportunities and gives us choices

Laura Goodall is a science communicator with a background in human genetics. She currently works at Science Photo Library and in her spare time she freelances as a science writer. She is also Publications Secretary at the British Science Association’s Central London branch, Science London, and a contributor at

Science is important because it creates opportunities in life that make us who we are. Science has given us choices that we now take for granted.

For me, this is particularly relevant because I was born partially deaf and wear hearing aids. Both the advanced medical techniques that identified which frequencies my hearing lacks and the innovative engineering of hearing devices that reinstated these frequencies meant that I now have the same opportunities as hearing people throughout my life. My peers forget that I am hard of hearing and think of me as the same as them. I also take my ability to hear for granted, but without the science behind my hearing aids, I wouldn’t even BE the person that I am today. Similarly, if it wasn’t for the scientific research and development behind eyewear, artificial limbs, pacemakers, hip replacements and so on, most people would be struggling with life as they know it now.

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Nigel Henbest: moving on from gods and demons

Nigel Henbest is an award-winning writer and TV producer, specialising in science and space. A founder of the leading independent television production company Pioneer Productions, his major television credits include the series Body Atlas, Universe, Edge of the Universe and The Day the Earth was Born; and the documentaries On Jupiter, Black Holes, Challenger and - most recently - Journey to the Edge of the Universe. These productions have garnered seven international awards, including Banff and the New York Festivals’ Grand Award.

As well as his work in television, Nigel has written 35 books and over 1000 articles, which have been translated into 27 languages. He is a columnist for The Independent newspaper and BBC Focus magazine. Asteroid 3795 is named “Nigel” in his honour; and he is enrolled to travel into space with Virgin Galactic in 2011.

It’s taken me some time to come round to answering this question; not because it’s difficult, but because it is too easy. After all: Why is music important? Why is breathing important?

Trying to understand the world around is, I believe, hard-wired into human nature. And “science” is just that process of understanding. Yes, you can interpret nature in terms of gods and demons. But, sooner or later, you are likely to move on. The mind is finely tuned to pick out patterns in the world around us; and once you have the leisure - as the Greek middle classes did in the first few centuries BC - you begin to see how the world is set out on rational principles.

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Heather Couper: the driver behind our culture, our mores, and our belief

Heather Couper is an international broadcaster and writer on astronomy, space and science. Although a scientist by training, she has spent the last twenty years working entirely in the media. She has hosted many TV programmes and radio shows - including the long-running series Seeing Stars on BBC World Service. She has also written over 30 books, including The History of Astronomy and Universe. On 2 June 1999 the International Astronomical Union named asteroid number 3922 “Heather” in her honour.

I see science as a vision. As a landscape. As a perspective for us to reflect on the events that are happening in the world - and how to see a way ahead.

I’ll take the last statement first. Currently, science doesn’t have a great press. Stem-cell research, genetic modification and cloning are looked upon as unnatural. But science has the power to change lives, and to help humankind move forward. However - the bottom line is that I believe science underpins our whole existence. It’s the driver behind our culture, our mores, and our beliefs.

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Anna Starkey: it's the process of science that's important

Anna Starkey is a writer, producer and science communicator. With a passion for physics fuelled by an incredible teacher, Frank Close’s Royal Institution Lectures and numerous school trips to CERN, she was inspired to study physics and science communication. Since then, Anna has worked as an explainer at the London Science Museum and as the UK Particle Physics Outreach Officer for STFC, as well as writing on a collection of animated children’s series in between. She currently works as a development producer and writer in children’s television and is an active Science and Engineering Ambassador, making regular visits to schools where she gets asked extremely brilliant questions and is made to think very hard about the universe.

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