As part of the New Zealand Herald’s ‘Twelve Questions’ series S
An excerpt (read in full here):
Professor Richard Easther is one of the world’s leading cosmologists, known for his work on what happened straight after the Big Bang. He spent 15 years at Ivy League universities in the US and is now head of physics at the University of Auckland.
1. What do cosmologists talk about at parties?
Cosmologists are kind of fun people. Well, we think so. If it’s a party with other cosmologists, we talk about pretty much anything. It’s a pretty diverse bunch of people. You are much more likely to wind up talking about cosmology if you are the only cosmologist at the party. The two most common reactions I get are “Oh, dear, physics was my worst subject at school” or a string of questions about the Big Bang. Sometimes both.
2. When did the universe first interest you?
Ever since I can remember. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with space. I badgered my parents to buy me a telescope, which they did and I read everything about astronomy I could get my hands on. There’s a book called The Scientist in the Crib which says babies do experiments. When they drop things and pick them up they are testing for repeatability which is a big thing for scientists. All scientists are big babies. They’re the people in the world who have retained that childlike approach to the universe.
3. Describe your childhood
I had a great childhood, but in retrospect it was fairly lonely – I was definitely the only astrophysicist in the village, so to speak. The funny thing is I didn’t feel lonely – I only realised it when I was in an environment with other people who were interested in what I was interested in that I had been. Mum and Dad were surprised to find they were raising a scientist, I think. Dad was a doctor who loved amateur theatre and mum, Shirley Maddock, did many things – actor, writer, and worked in radio and television. She’d left TV when we were kids but she wrote books at home. Dad was really enthusiastic about Mum’s career and her success and I think that was important for us to see growing up.