Science Through the Poetic Lens

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Before the scientific method, philosophy answered mankind’s big questions. But somewhere along the way, science conquered philosophy; scientists became rather mechanical, surrendering their hobbies and creativity to tireless invention and discovery. IdeaXme’s founder, Andrea Macdonald, interviews Dr. Sam Illingworth, an atmospheric physicist, and an avid science communicator. Dr. Illingworth is currently a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University.  Dr. Sam Illingworth’s “A Sonnet to Science” brings forth a new era in science communication. Listen as he talks about the beautiful amalgamation of science and poetry.

Watch the complete interview here:


Dr. Sam Illingworth, Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University
Credits: Manchester Metropolitan University

Scientific Insights in Poetry

“In my book, A Sonnet to Science, I look at six scientists from the 1800s to the modern-day and the role and influence that poetry had in the development of their research and on their lives in general.

Ada Lovelace was an amazing figure. She was the daughter of the infamous British poet Lord Byron. Ada had this amazing upbringing and she was incredibly intelligent. She was introduced to Charles Babbage, who many people see as the forefather of modern computing. Ada wrote musical poetry and wrote so eloquently that it was her own poetic sensibility that gave her the metaphysical and meta-analytical foresight to be able to make these deductions. In reading her poetry and just in looking at the incredible things that she accomplished in a very short amount of time, it’s amazing to see what a huge impact she’s had on modern technology and on computers as we use them today.”

Forging Ties Between Science and Policy

“If we take something, for example, environmental change, it’s really important to listen to all voices, not just scientists, because in order to solve some of the environmental change issues, we’re going to need everybody to get involved. But when we bring together non-scientists and scientists that know science, they sometimes feel like, oh, is my voice really worth listening to? Using poems as a starting point for dialogue is a really powerful way to give voice to those voices that might not normally be heard and it’s proven to be an effective way of transcending cultures, transcending ages, transcending various characteristics.”

“I gradually began to understand that actually it’s not just scientists who have research pedigree, and it’s not just poets who have an element of creativity, but rather, it’s all of us.”

Curiosity Fuels Scientific Research

Ever wonder what attracts scientists to that ever prevailing tedium of laboratories? It’s quite simple. Scientists work, not for money or fame, but for the charm of discovery; they do it to quench their curiosity. Dr. Sam Illingworth explains why curiosity is important in shaping young, scientific minds.

“I know that myself, the reason why I’m curious is that nobody ever told me to stop asking questions. I think that’s such a powerful thing. That’s what science is really, it’s about asking questions and also realizing that science isn’t the only medium through which to ask and answer questions. A nice activity that we do when we go into schools is that we do a series of experiments, like visual experiments where we add different things together and it ends up looking good. We then discuss what we can see and ask the students to write up the experience as a poem, demonstrating to them that there’s not a mutual exclusivity between science and poetry, but rather they’re just complementary ways to try and understand the world and the way in which we live.”

The original interview has been condensed by Iqra Naveed and Fatima Iftikhar.

Credits: Interview by Andrea Macdonald, ideaXme Founder

With permission of ideaXme, a global podcast, ambassador and mentor programme. ideaXme interviews the creators and innovators who shape our world.  They speak to all those who move the human story forward!™ ideaXme Ltd.

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A Sonnet to Science: Dr Sam Illingworth 

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