Science with a bang
10 December 2011
Understanding how the world works is at the heart of the BBC One programme 'Bang Goes the Theory'. Here, one of the show's presenters, Dallas Campbell, shares his passion for science, and explains why weather is best made with a laboratory the size of a planet.
Dallas Campbell is not a scientist - but that hasn't stopped him from making some of the most popular programmes about science on TV including, most recently, the BBC One show, 'Bang Goes the Theory'.
In fact, his mantra is you don't have to be a scientist to be in love with science. And no one is better proof of this than Dallas, himself. At university he studied Drama and English and, after he realised he wasn't going to become a champion alpine skier like his childhood hero, Franz Klammer, he pursued an alternative dream: to become an actor. This is something he succeeded at, with acting credits including Casualty, Holby City and Moll Flanders.
His inspiration for making science shows came later and was sparked during a Richard Dawkins Royal Institution Christmas Lecture he attended. "It was the first time the simplicity, beauty and power of evolution and natural selection really hit home," remembers Dallas. Later, with the help of the late director/comedian Ken Campbell - who was also a keen science fan - Dallas wrote what he calls "a layman's guide to achieve the impossible and understand how the world works."
The result was his first science show, Dallas in Wonderland.
Like the Met Office, one of Dallas' key roles is making complicated information accessible for a wide audience.
"Even with complex things, you can get to the nub of it and find that the principles are simple," explains Dallas. "Take the Large Hadron Collider. It's right at the edge of physics and fabulously complicated. Yet it's grabbed the public. People are excited about the LHC because it has a natural appeal to their imaginations," he says.
Of course, for Dallas this also means talking about complicated science doesn't mean you have to dumb it down. "People often say that if you're making science palatable you must be dumbing it down. But then you're just reinforcing the idea that only scientists can like and understand these things," he says.
And this really is central to 'Bang Goes the Theory' - a show in which Dallas and his co-presenters put a wide variety of topics to the test - including the weather. As last year was the coldest winter in 31 years - with an average temperature of 1.51 °C - the team wanted to "get under the bonnet of the weather," as Dallas says.
In the hour-long weather special, the team not only explored why our weather is so changeable, they also tried to make their own clouds, rain and snow. For this, they converted a large shipping container into a weather chamber.
"We actually made a few snowflakes," recalls Dallas, "but it was a real challenge because you need a big atmosphere. Weather is best made in a laboratory the size of a planet," he adds jokingly.
Keeping a sense of wonder
With UK audiences hungry for science shows, Dallas has several other projects in the pipeline - including another show for BBC One, looking at great engineering projects. And a Horizon Guides programme in which they take a science topic and examine the Horizon archives on that subject over the last 50 years.
"You get a wonderful view of science through this process," says Dallas, "how it's a continuous evolution of ideas based on the given evidence, imagination and discipline in equal measures," he adds enthusiastically.
One thing is certain. Dallas Campbell truly is a man who lives his motto - and is head over heels for science.