How Did You Get That Job?


Dick Ahlstrom, Irish TimesScience Editor

How did you get into science journalism?

By accident rather than by design. I was writing for The Irish Timesabout computers and luckily for me lots of people thought that computers were the same as science. I moved to the newsroom and began writing news stories that had a science element to them.

Would you like to have been a scientist?

I started university in the physics department but soon learned that I couldn’t keep on top of the mathematics needed to deal with subjects like physics and engineering. But I don’t need that mathematics to understand scientists when they describe their discoveries.

Most scientists are quite good at explaining what they are up to using ordinary language and that makes it easier to write about what their research is all about.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Variety. In the morning I could be writing about stem cells and by the afternoon have moved on to particle physics. The main thing is I get to share in the excitement of discovery no matter what the research discipline. For this reason it never gets boring. And you can sense the excitement of the scientists when they describe their discoveries.

What great science books would you recommend?

If you are curious about science and want simple explanations of how things work buy Science the Definitive Visual Guidepublished by DK to see if that inspires you. If you don’t care about how things work start reading a pioneer of science fiction, Jules Verne (1828-1905) and see if he makes you curious to find out more about science.

What’s the most amazing fact you know?

That if you trace back the 13.5 billion years or so to the origins of our universe and of space-time, all of this matter and energy was at one time condensed into a single minute point, a singularity. What wrecks your head is what set it off, how did this point deliver an entire universe?

What great breakthrough would you like to see over the next 10 years?

I would like to see lots of things. I want to see stem cells used to regenerate diseased tissues. I want doctors to be able to reverse cancers using the body’s own immune system.

I also want scientists at Europe’s nuclear research centre, Cern, to discover something called the Higgs Boson. I want experiments currently underway to finally discover proof of gravity waves.