Dominic Walliman and Professor Astro Cat
Knowledge and humor combine to make science exciting and easy to understand.
Nighttime has arrived, and you’re about to put your child or grandchild to bed, and he or she asks you to please, please read a bedtime story. You gladly oblige and see some books neatly stacked on a shelf and reach for Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but the child asks for the book about the laws of physics. Puzzled, you reluctantly agree, wondering how you will ever get through that material, fully expecting to be peppered with questions you can’t answer. On top of that, you’ll miss that primetime television show you’ve been waiting for all day.
Opening the book, you begin to read, and the child eagerly awaits as if ready to embark on an great adventure. Before you know it, you too are absorbed in the subject matter, engrossed in the easy to understand language, and soaking up knowledge. You notice sleep has overcome the child, and you find yourself reading more.
A Passion for Science
Who knew subjects like quantum physics and mathematics could make such nice bedtime stories? It is the brainchild of Dominic Walliman, an experimental quantum physicist and award-winning science author, and Ben Newman, an illustrator. Newman wanted to create a book about space and asked Walliman to provide his expertise and write on the subject. Walliman started in 2011 and continued to author an entire series of Professor Astro Cat children’s science books. The popular series has since been translated into more than 25 languages worldwide.
The eye-catching illustrated children’s books follow Professor Astro Cat and his sidekick Astro Mouse as they journey through the world of science. Their adventures lead to exploring atoms, the solar system, the human body, and much more.
Walliman grew up reading science books and was fascinated with learning as much science as he could. He was excited to share what he learned with family and friends, and storytelling came naturally to him. “I have been writing things for fun for years: comic books, movie scripts, short stories, so when Ben came to me to ask if I wanted to write a book about space with him, I jumped at the chance! To be honest, I didn’t feel like it was much of a leap. It was exactly what I wanted to do. I love explaining science well,” he says in a My Book Corner interview.
He is dedicated to sharing his love of science with children and is skilled in transforming complex subjects into fun reading. It is his goal to pass on the wonder of science to the next generation. In addition to writing children’s books, Walliman is a filmmaker, creating videos explaining science as simply as possible on his popular YouTube channel Domain of Science.
Walliman earned a Ph.D. in quantum device physics from the University of Birmingham in the UK in 2010 and focused his career on quantum computing. He worked for several years at D-Wave Systems, a quantum computer company in Vancouver, before launching into writing children’s books. He splits his time between writing and producing his YouTube videos. Want to learn why some infinities are bigger than others? Watch his video:
When writing non-fiction stories for children, special considerations are needed in handling complex subjects. He explains his experience in a Minilab Studios interview, “My approach is that you can explain anything to anyone, as long as you start in the right place and are realistic about how deep you can go. For example, quantum physics is hard, but you can at least explain why it is interesting and important, and what it describes and solves without having to go into the nitty gritty details. I find it all fascinating and really rewarding, so most of all I want to show other people what I love about these subjects and hopefully leave them interested to find out more.”
He continues, “It is a shame science is intimidating to many people. I think this is because we were made to feel bad when we didn’t do so well in a test in school. Learning stuff about science shouldn’t be about doing well in a test or improving your ‘intelligence’, it is just about discovering how this amazing universe works for its own sake. I’m still very confused about a lot of science and that’s okay.”
The Secret Sauce
Walliman’s books are primarily written for 7 to 11-year-old children. It is an age range that he enjoys explaining the most complicated subjects such as quantum physics, nanotechnology, relativity, and rocket science. He is convinced that communicating complex science can be easily explained to if approached the right way.
In his TEDx talk, Walliman explained his set of principles for good scientific or technical communication:
- Form the information in terms of what people already understand.
- Provide a small amount of information to pique their interest and explain more if they are interested.
- Provide simple explanations that may not be technically correct but will get the point across.
- Convey why it is so relevant to their lives or show your enthusiasm on the subject, so they are more likely to remember and gain value from it.
Walliman believes people should not feel intimidated by science. He says, “Science shouldn’t be about whether you’re good at it or not. It should only be about whether you’re interested.” He adds, “Just pick the subject that you’re interested in, find some material, and then just, from there, follow your curiosity.”