Children are natural-born scientists, brimming with questions and an insatiable urge to find out more about the strange and wonderful universe around them. I’ve seen this first-hand as a parent, where the need to find answers to my son’s and daughter’s questions about life, the universe and everything, has led me to brilliant TV series such as Human Universe and Stargazing Live where the wonder that science can inspire is brought to life by brilliant scientists such as Professor Brian Cox.
However when I think back to my experiences of science at school, I don’t recall my imagination being fired. Growing up, science lessons in my school were mostly a battle for control of the gas taps between the kids who wanted to blow up the Science block and those of us who wanted to live. Any experiments we did get round to performing involved rolling marbles down slopes or heating salty water to boiling point and usually went wrong anyway as most major scientific laws didn’t seem to apply in Manchester in the 1980s. In the real world, the Voyager spacecraft was flying past Saturn whilst the space shuttle zoomed in and out of orbit, but science in school kept my eyes firmly fixed to the blackboard and didn’t spark for me any sense of wonder about the universe.
It was a different story on my paper round. There, at the bottom of a bag bulging with tomorrow’s chip papers, I discovered 2000AD. This weekly comic was filled with stories of space exploration, alien invaders, genetically-engineered super soldiers, and time-travelling paradoxes. In comic strips such as Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog and Tharg’s Future Shocks, I found stories inspired by theories and discoveries at the cutting edge of science, and used to paint exciting and terrifying pictures of the future. And every week, I’d eagerly flick through the pages of 2000AD as I traipsed round my paper round, my mind whirling with thoughts of alien life and parallel worlds, until the time came to push the rain-spattered copy of the comic through the letterbox of the poor kid who had ordered it.
Unfortunately the interest in science sparked by 2000AD wasn’t enough to prevent me getting a grade D in my GCSE Physics exam, but it did lead me to E.T., The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Back to the Future and Doctor Who. In the world of fiction, I found real scientific ideas sparkling with a sense of wonder that science in school had kept hidden.
In The Jamie Drake Equation and The Many Worlds of Albie Bright I want to bring that same excitement about science into the world of children’s fiction, using ideas and theories about the search for alien life, the speed of light, quantum physics and parallel worlds, and using these to spark the same sense of wonder that I first found in the pages of 2000AD. Science is a gift for storytellers. Through fiction we can inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and astronauts, and use science to hook a new generation of children on reading too.
The Jamie Drake Equation is published by Nosy Crow