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Tech Q&A

Simon Singh

Describe your latest project.
I am taking a break from writing and working on a show called Theatre of Science. The idea is to present science in an engaging, exciting, and thought-provoking manner. Richard Wiseman and I started this project three years ago and we had a short sellout run in London. Now we are trying to increase the level of spectacle and theatricality by introducing more scientific demonstrations. For example, our finale involves firing a pair of million volt tesla coils. We have just had another sellout run in London; I am in Dublin right now presenting the show, and later in the year we hope to bring Theatre of Science to New York.

What inspires you to sit down and write?
I write books for two reasons. First, I want to learn new stuff. Second, I want to pass my passion for a subject onto others. I think science and mathematics are absolutely bloody amazing and I just want other people to realize this. I get a real buzz out of meeting a teenager who gets excited about science via my books. I get an even bigger thrill when I meet an 80-year-old who hated science at school, but who tells me that they enjoyed reading one of my books.

Chess or video games?
Chess — I am just a bit too old to be part of the video game generation. But, to be honest, it has been quite a while since I played chess.

What do you do for relaxation?
I love going to see stand-up comedy. London is a hub for comedy, so any night of the week I can go out and watch any one of a dozen shows, anything from the highly offensive magician Jerry Sadowitz to the charmingly surreal Boothby Graffoe.

What was your best subject in high school? Your worst?
Physics was always my best subject, and the one I enjoyed the most. I eventually completed a PhD in particle physics, but that was when I realized that I there were some people around me who were in a different league. They would be the ones who would make great discoveries. So, I left physics and became a writer. I figured the next best thing to be a scientist would be to write about science. My worst subjects were the languages, French and German.

If you could be reincarnated for one day to live the life of any scientist or writer, who would you choose and why?
I would much rather be reincarnated as a scientist rather than a writer. Anybody would do, because I just want to experience the thrill of making a discovery. That was my biggest regret about leaving research — I would never experience that moment of revelation, when you realize that you are the first person in the world to comprehend some aspect of the universe. It is interesting that you mention reincarnation. Last year I joined the British Reincarnation Society. Membership is $200 per year, which is quite expensive, but I thought, "What the hell, you only live once!"

Describe the best museum of science and/or industry you've ever visited and what made it great.
I am on the board of the London Science Museum, so I have to pick that one, largely because we have such an amazing collection. For example, not only do we have original parts of Charles Babbage's prototype mechanical computer, we actually have a fully working machine, something that Babbage himself failed to build.

Which country do you believe currently leads the world in science and technology? In ten years?
America clearly leads the world in scientific research. The sheer number and quality of scientific papers proves that this is the case. In ten years time, I think America will still lead the world, but I think India will have advanced an enormous amount. In Europe and North America I see a general decline in enthusiasm for science among young people, but I recently went to India and was delighted by the interest I saw there.

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