The Most Famous Scientist in the UK

Tony Ballantyne, author of “Trapezium” in our current issue on sale now, visits the blog to talk about an important celebrity scientist who is shaping the minds of future innovation.


I remember how excited I was having a short story published in the same anthology as Larry Niven. I remember chatting with Harry Harrison at the launch of my first novel . . .

Okay, I’m name-dropping, but there’s a reason for it. I’m leading up to mentioning my friend, probably the most famous scientist in the UK . . .

. . . If you are between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, that is.

Dr. Shaun Donnelly, or as he’s known on twitter, @UKScienceguy, may well turn out to be one of the most influential scientists of his generation. Not because of his work in the laboratory, but rather in a field that is enjoying something of a Renaissance in societies around the world.

A few years he set up a mini film studio declaring that “education leads to social mobility. Therefore, every student deserves outstanding teaching. It’s that simple.”

With that in mind he began to record ten-minute videos with a view to teaching science, one concept at a time. Over the course of two years, whilst continuing to teach full time, he built up a collection of videos that covered the entire GCSE science syllabus (the exams taken by every sixteen year old in the UK). When they changed the syllabus, he took time off work to update them. Hundreds of thousands of British school children owe him their thanks. They use his videos to help pass their examinations. With a significant rise in children opting to study Maths and Science at higher levels over the past year, his study aids are going a long way towards achieving his stated goal of widening opportunities.

It’s not just about widening opportunities. An educated populace is less likely to fooled by bad science. An educated populace can weigh up the facts before making decisions on controversial subjects such as fracking, global warming and genetic modification. And, on a selfish note, the more people there who understand science, the bigger my potential readership.

It’s hardly being controversial to claim education is important. Few would disagree about the importance of encouraging young people to work within scientific fields, or with initiatives such as getting girls into STEM. The arguments begin when people discuss how to achieve these aims. The answer is actually quite straightforward. Stop talking and start teaching.

That’s what my friend did.

Dr. Donnelly is clever man. I suspect his real genius lies in communication. When the Hugos come around, it would be nice to see an award that recognizes the work of people like him.

View Freesciencelessons here:

—Tony Ballantyne


Tony Ballantyne is the author of the Penrose and Recursion series of novels as well as many acclaimed short stories that have appeared in magazines and anthologies around the world. He has been nominated for the BSFA and Philip K Dick awards. His novel Dream Paris, a follow up to the critically acclaimed Dream London, was published in September 2015.

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