Lucy Hawking explains to Tom Collins why astrophysics isn’t just for her famous father Stephen.
Casting an eye across a packed room of children fizzing with enthusiasm and ideas, it would be tempting to assume they may have over-indulged in sweets and sugary drinks prior to arrival. However, they were just responding gleefully to Lucy Hawking – author of the George Greenby science adventure series, the latest of which is George and the Big Bang. Her cheery and engaging talk covered black holes, extra-terrestrials and, well, the theory of everything.
“It’s pretty reliable the level of excitement that exotic phenomena of astrophysics generates with the kids – by that I mean black holes, aliens, space travel,” she explains. “So it’s about using that allure, that excitement, to pull them in, and then teach the something else.”
Seeing children so invested and intrigued in concepts that would befuddle many a grown-up is what draws Lucy across the UK to conduct her talks, interspersed with some beautifully animated cartoons to get the kids giggling with instructive information about outer space.
“The feedback [from the children] is brilliant. Normally at the start of a Q&A there’ll be one or two questions, but by the time I get to the end there’ll be a forest of hands. What I really loved was that they were taking the information I was giving them, and trying to re-imagine it themselves and take it on a notch. I talked about nano-spacecraft, and one kid came up to me and wanted to talk about nano-humans to go into them!”
Aiming to tap into this thirst for knowledge whilst simultaneously appealing to a child’s sense of imagination, Hawking has also penned a series of books (with her famous father Stephen) about a young space traveller called George. George’s adventures, taking him from the depths of a black hole to the rings of Jupiter, give her young audience a dose of both rollicking storytelling, and an understanding of how the universe works. It’s this strategy that Hawking ultimately feels is the optimum way to engage young minds with scientific theory.
“With the books, I imagine the kids will be aged 7-10, so this will be their first point of contact with scientific information. And it’s about trying to make it part of their world, because a child’s world is very much about storytelling, be it on the television or internet, and making it seem very friendly, familiar and funny. Then they can feel comfortable with reading scientific information and be quite blasé about it; ‘I know about black holes, I know about the Big Bang’. It demystifies it. It’s really about trying to make science a central part of their lives.”