Sights of special scientific interest

March 28, 1997

Scientists talk about objects in the natural world that have most touched them in a new series of Seven Wonders of the World, the BBC's bid to challenge popular misconceptions about science and scientists. "Far from being cold, reductionist, unromantic number-crunchers, scientists have the ability to inspire an audience with strange insights into the world seen from a different point of view,'' producer Christopher Sykes says.

"I don't know any good scientists who are interested only in science,'' says Aubrey Manning, Edinburgh University's professor of natural history, who opened the series with wonders ranging from trees to the now extinct thylacine or Tasmanian tiger. "The idea of the boffin who never lifts his or her head from the lab bench is a bit exaggerated. Perhaps at a particular stage in your research career, you're working eight days a week because you're obsessed by something

That's because science is truly creative, in exactly the same way Stravinsky would work 14 consecutive days and emerge with The Rite of Spring.'' Manning has chosen the Tasmanian tiger, hunted to extinction earlier this century, as a symbol of lost beauty and human folly. The programme includes a poignant film clip from the 1930s of the last remaining thylacine pacing around its cage in a zoo. "It was so totally unnecessary. The Tasmanian sheep farmers in the 1910s and 1920s were losing a few sheep occasionally, that was all.''

Richard Dawkins, Oxford University professor for the public understanding of science includes BBC broadcaster David Attenborough among his wonders; Princeton University's Alison Jolly chooses Machu Picchu, the lost Inca city discovered in 1911, and neuroscientist Steven Pinker opts for the bicycle, the camera and the human eye. Monica Grady, curator of meteorites at the Natural History Museum, votes for crystals - "they haven't been carved or sculpted ... they've grown like this all by themselves, following the laws of physics" - the Internet and Antarctica. And American neurobiologist Thomas Eisner's wonders include the courtship of the mosquito and the Bombardier beetle with its scalding, defensive spray.

* The series, which began last week, is broadcast on BBC2 at 7pm every Wednesday until April 30.


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