Public engagement through children’s stories

  • October 26, 2020
Public engagement through children’s stories

Niraj Lal's new book aims to explain gravity through a colourful children's story

The book aims to kindle some wonder in the universe. The small spark of an idea that our world is both amazing and understandable. That science is a little bit magic, and that with imagination and creativity we can do amazing things.

Niraj Lal
An award-winning science communicator and tv presenter who honed his communication skills as a Gates Cambridge Scholar is launching a colourful children’s book about gravity.
Dr Niraj Lal’s new children’s book, Henry the Flying Emu, is being launched by well-known science journalist broadcaster Robyn Williams AO, host of the ABC Science Show. The book tells the story of an emu that wants to fly by going into gravitational orbit.

Niraj says the inspiration for the book came from a dream he had about a run on the beach. He was studying General Relativity for his undergraduate degree and learning about how in space-time everything falls in straight lines. In his dream this translated into going into orbit on a run. When he woke up, Niraj wondered how fast you’d actually need to run to go into orbit at the earth’s surface and he thought “about whether any animal could do this – and then about emus not being able to fly – and how frustrating that must be – and then the story kind of wrote itself from there…”

Illustrated by Adam Carruthers, the book aims to be fun to read and to “kindle wonder in the universe. The small spark of an idea that our world is both amazing and understandable. That science is a little bit magic, and that with imagination and creativity we can do incredible things”.

Niraj says: “There is so much content out there for our little ones to absorb, and one of the hardest things will be for them to discern what is real and what isn’t – a hope of science communication like this is to help foster [by stealth] that sense of critical thinking – that we can use our own minds to figure out stuff.”

A gifted writer

The book has already won praise from well-respected figures in science. Sir Richard Friend FRS , Cavendish Professor of Physics, University of Cambridge, said: “Niraj is a gifted writer of children’s stories. His latest story, about an emu that wanted to fly, brings real depth of science to a lovely story. The reader learns that the emu’s tendency to fall to Earth is just the same as the Moon, constantly falling towards the Earth, but staying of course in its orbit around the Earth. This is Isaac Newton’s story of the apple falling on his head re-written – great for all ages!”

The book will be launched on November 14th – the peak time for the Leonids meteor shower, the November new moon, and, according to Niraj, the best night to see the dark ‘Emu’ constellation in the sky.  He will be giving a science/space Q&A after the launch.

Niraj was named one of the ABC’s Top 5 Scientists Under 40 in 2016. He is the host of the ABC Kids Imagine This podcast, Sciencey on ABC iView and has appeared on a wide variety of tv channels, including the Discovery Channel.

His other current roles are wide-ranging across science, communications and activism. Among other posts he is Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University’s Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems, an expert for the International Energy Agency Photovoltaics Program, Principal at the Australian Energy Market Operator and the Founder of TheKnews.org, a global wisdom-sharing website.

Niraj [2008], who did his PhD in Physics on Nanovoid Plasmon-Enhanced Photovoltaics, was able to burnish his passion for public engagement while he was at Cambridge. He graduated from the University’s Rising Stars public engagement programme for early career scientists, worked with the acclaimed Naked Scientists programme and did outreach work with children and adults in the UK.

*More information: henrytheflyingemu.org and nirajlal.org

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