My 12-year-old grandson is starting high school next year. He has always wanted to be a physicist and has the school results so far to warrant his interest. He is interested in the cosmos, the universe etc., a bit like a mini Brian Cox. Books, DVDs etc. by Brian Cox might be a little complex. Can you suggest a book a little less technical but would still hold appropriate interest for a 12-year-old?Chris
It’s not exactly a science question, but we in the Cosmos newsroom could hardly resist!
Our RiAus Education Manager recommended Big Ideas for Curious Minds: An Introduction to Philosophy.
Finally, we reached out to our outgoing RiAus Lead Scientist, astrophysicist and director of the Space Technology and Industry Institute at Swinburne University of Technology, Professor Alan Duffy. Here’s what Alan had to say to this grandparent of a budding scientist.
Thanks so much for reaching out on behalf of your grandson.
At 12 years old, I recall I was very interested in cosmology as well. I started trying to read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, and it opened my eyes to a world of dark matter, black holes, colliding galaxies and expanding universes. I’ve since reread the book, and what I realise now is that I didn’t really get much of it right – I didn’t actually understand as much as I thought I understood at the time.
But it didn’t matter, because it inspired me. It allowed me to realise that there was a career out there called a cosmologist, where you could literally be paid to study the universe. For me, that was as profoundly informative as the science I was reading itself.
For your grandson, I would highly recommend Neil deGrasse Tyson’s more age-appropriate book, Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry. But also don’t be afraid to give him more advanced cosmology books, like A Brief History of Time (or, quite frankly, any of Stephen Hawking’s works).
Tell your grandson that it’s okay to not understand everything that you’re reading. It’s okay to have questions at the end of the book; that’s a good thing. It was how I was inspired to become a professional astrophysicist. In fact, my PhD was focused on dark matter and cosmology – all because of how much my eyes were opened by Stephen Hawking and his words, even though at 12 years old, I really didn’t understand all of it.
That’s what it means to be a scientist: to be constantly curious, constantly uncertain and constantly questioning.
It sounds like your grandson is well on his way. I wish him luck.
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Alan Duffy is an astrophysicist at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne. He was Lead Scientist of The Royal Institution of Australia from 2017 to 2021. Twitter | @astroduff
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