Dr Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman talk cats in space
Published on: 26 September 2016
Dom and Ben talk about how Professor Astro Cat was created, what makes science great and their favourite scientists.
What first got you interested in science? Did you have a really amazing teacher at school?
Dom: I actually gave up science after GCSE because I found it a bit boring. Then when I was doing my A-Levels I watched a Channel 4 TV show called Universe and read a tie-in book of the same name, and they were incredible!
They talked about the wonder of all the crazy things that exist in the Universe, and the excitement of discovering them. That is what got me into science because it became a giant fascinating mystery, whereas in school it came across as a list of immutable rules. I much prefer a fascinating mystery.
How did the Professor Astro Cat character come about?
Ben: I drew a lot of cats as a child because everyone in my family had a cat. About 10 years ago, a job came up to draw a cat in a space suit for a record logo, but the client never used it. Rather than let it go to waste, I sold the image as a print and once it had sold out I forgot about it until years later when I was stuck on a wrapping paper design for my publisher.
I decide to re-design the Astro Cat for the wrapping paper and it proved to be very popular. Around this time, Dominic suggested we should have a narrator for the Frontiers of Space book we were just starting work on. I immediately thought, 'How about a Professor Astro Cat?' So we just ran with the idea and I'm so glad we did.
What makes physics cool?
Dom: Sometimes we all think about the big questions. How come we exist? Our bodies are a collection of dumb atoms, so how do they all join together to make the amazing experience that is our life? What is reality made of? There are many attempts to answer these in human history and culture, but I think the most success we've had is with physics.
And along the way we've discovered loads of technologies that have advanced the human race like electricity, radio communications, computers and the internet. Perhaps we won't be able to answer all the questions we have using physics, but we haven't run out of ideas yet!
Who is your favourite scientist, and your favourite author?
Ben: I don't have a favourite scientist as there are too many to choose from, and science is a big collaboration between many people so it is hard to single any one person out. But there are a couple of people who are both good scientists and authors: Jim Al-Kalili, who has written some great books about physics, and David Eagleman, a neuroscientist who has a wonderful writing style - he's fantastic.