As a presenter on TV, stage and YouTube, Greg nurtures children’s innate curiosity for science.
Chemistry is learning how the world ticks
Greg’s favourite thing about chemistry has always been the fact that everything around us can be boiled down to just a few simple rules:
“When learning chemistry, you’re almost learning how the world ticks; you’re learning the rules that the world is based on. If you can figure these things out, you can explain anything!”
At the age of eight, Greg attended an event at his local town hall in Cumbria, where a presenter was carrying out experiments on stage. He remembers the presenter performing the ‘screaming jelly baby experiment’ (an experiment where you drop a jelly baby into potassium chlorate causing sugar to rapidly oxidise, producing a large amount of flames and a ‘screaming’ sound). “That was the first time I’d seen showmanship in science. And that totally got me,” says Greg.
The desire to become a science presenter really took hold whilst Greg was studying natural sciences at the University of Cambridge and so he took a postgraduate course in science communication at Imperial College London. After the course, he began sending his presenter show-reel to companies and, after it finally found its way to the BBC, he was asked to host a CBBC series. He has been working in the industry ever since.
Why do farts smell?
As well as being a TV science presenter, regularly appearing on shows such as Blue Peter and Sunday Brunch, Greg presents science on stage and on YouTube. He makes videos for the popular YouTube channel Brit Lab about a wide range of science topics including ‘what happens to your body when you die?’, ‘why do farts smell?’ and ‘why do hot things glow?’. Greg feels passionately that YouTube videos are one of the best ways to get children excited about science. He thinks that the ability to dial up a video whenever you want, about whatever you want, is set to take over from traditional broadcasting channels.
On stage, Greg travels around the UK doing live shows at schools, science festivals and music festivals. One of the biggest of these was Kaboom – a show about the history and science of explosions, which he performed to over 1,500 children when it headlined the Big Bang Fair in 2014.
“The thing I enjoy most about my job is crafting an explanation – taking something you may think is complicated and finding a way to translate it simply so it can be understood. Quite often this involves devising an experiment to bring it alive! I love helping people grow and inspiring them with science.”
Think about what you want to do
Greg’s advice to others considering a career in science communication is to work out exactly where your passion lies:
“Science communication is a huge, growing field with a whole myriad of roles within it. You need to think about what you want to do: do you want to write? Do radio? Present? Carry out research for a TV show? Edit books? There are loads of ways to be involved in the world of communicating science, so think about what you really enjoy.”
Once you’ve decided what you want to do, Greg advises to “just go for it”. He describes the industry as competitive, but thinks that if you have an angle and really push then you can succeed. He says, “Make sure you’re meeting as many people as you can and telling them what you are doing. And just start doing it - if you're not doing it, no one knows you’re doing it.”
It saddens me that people think science is boring
“Every single child is naturally curious about the world – every single child is a scientist.”
Greg thinks that the only way people could think science is boring is if they have had a bad experience “with this thing they call science” and that people often don’t fully appreciate what science is – being curious about the world. He expects that often negative experiences in school lessons, or concepts not being explained properly, make people assume that science is out of their reach. Greg firmly believes that people have the ability to understand anything and that things just need to be explained in the right way.
“Everyone is naturally curious and interested in the world around them; everyone looks at something and wants to ask questions,” he explains. And Greg believes that this is what science really is – it’s asking questions and finding out the answers.
Words by Isobel Marr
Images courtesy of Greg Foot
Published October 2015