Thursday, June 7, 2012

The New Astronomical Dream Team

If you're into any or all things astronomical you could do worse than check out my astronomy blog, Blogstronomy*, where you can read answers to other people's space questions, and ask your own!

I've just been watching the BBC's Transit of Venus Horizon special, and it struck me that there's a new force to be reckoned with in the field of popular science broadcasting. Move over, Moore**, bugger off, Brian***, there's a new team in town. And they're girls.

Science has been distinctly man-dominated since it was first invented shortly after the Big Bang. Science broadcasting has followed suit with female presenters generally being left with a bit of a sidekick role over the years. Even the 'famous' female astronomers of history are considerably less famous than their male contemporaries: Caroline Herschel, anybody? Not any more: astronomy is a discipline which does not require a penis, and new, female faces are coming onto the scene and not only carrying the torch of popular astronomy for the masses but also finally providing role models for young women who like science.

The Transit of Venus special was hosted by three people who've caught my eye recently, and I want to talk a bit about them here because they're bloody marvellous:

Liz Bonnin

French-born, Dublin-raised Liz was first introduced to me**** as co-presenter of the excellent general science series Bang Goes the Theory. With a degree in biochemistry and a masters in wild animal biology and conservation she's got pedigree, and a background in broadcasting has given her the experience to get the message across. For me, her wide-eyed and unabashed awe and wonder at pretty much everything makes her a consistently watchable presenter, and she has a wonderful ability to repeat what sciencey people say in a way that anybody can access and understand.

Dr Lucie Green

Dr Lucie is a real, actual working scientist who I first noticed on the BBC's Stargazing Live shows. She's a solar physicist based at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory who seems to be one of those fairly rare types of scientist with a flare for talking about their work to everyday folk. I'm captivated by her natural enthusiasm for her subject, and the way she gets her point across so simply and succinctly. In Transit of Venus she actually said " all-time hero Edmund Halley..." in amongst effortlessly discussing the basic mathematics of measuring the size of the solar system, and I almost had to go and lie down for a bit.

Helen Czerski

Dr Helen Czerski is the newest of these three presenters to enter my televisual experience base, having piqued my interest as co-presenter (with Kate Humble) of the BBC's Orbit series. By trade she's a physicist and oceanographer researching ocean bubbles. She's got a fiery passion for her subject that hides behind sleepy eyes and an almost horizontally laid-back presentation style: with her Mancunian roots and dreamy exposition against on-location backdrops, she's pretty much Brian Cox from a parallel universe. I can now see why so many of my female friends (and a few of my male ones) swoon so readily when watching Wonders.

I really, really like the trend we're seeing for young, enthusiastic science presenters who are also actually working scientists. They're surely acting as examples for young people, and hopefully the fact that they're not all male will do something to even things out a bit and encourage more women to explore their love of science.

* See what I did, there?
** I don't mean that- Sir Patrick will always be the Godfather of British astronomy.
*** I don't mean that either- Coxy's done buckets for getting astronomy back into the public domain.
**** That sounds like I've met her. I haven't, unfortunately: it was strictly a one-way televisual introduction. Bang, by the way, is presented by a quartet of hypergeeks and is well worth a viewing or two.