Scientist with the formula for bringing his subject to life

IT' S half an hour after my interview with Simon Watt was supposed to end, and I'm still firing questions at the evolutionary biologist.

"Is it true about the way salmon reproduce?"

"What do you say when you meet a Creationist?"

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"Is there anything we can never know?" I quiz the scientist, who has had a brilliant yet bewildering answer for everything so far.

"Ah, now that, is interesting," says Watt, leaning back in his chair and starting yet another fascinating and entertaining mini lecture about science that I just – just – manage to follow. I apologise, again, for asking now the fifth question since I first announced what would definitely be my final question.

"It's fine, I used to do this. When we were at university I would ask for a fact of the day – every day it was something more interesting than the previous," says Dan Rollings.

Watt is one of the experts on Channel 4 show Inside Nature's Giants. He is in Leeds working with Rollings, a theatre director and producer, for a new show that explores the history of medicine. To be accurate, Dr Death and the Medi-Evil Medicine Show, tells the whole history of medicine "from 460 BC to 1929 AD in an hour".

Rollings and Watt met at university in York and while Rollings went on to be a freelance theatre producer who now works between London and in Leeds (where he is manager for Slung Low theatre company), Watt finished his degree in biology and then went on to specialise in evolutionary biology at Glasgow University.

Their paths first crossed thourgh a student production they were both in while at York.

"He was the only scientist in the cast – everyone else was connected to drama in some way. He was constantly fascinating and there wasn't a subject that he didn't know about and anything he told you would lead to more questions.

"Even now while we're rehearsing the show, we stay up til 1am, talking about the fascinating ideas and concepts involved in the performance," says Rollings.

Watt is one of a new breed of scientists making their subject not only fascinating but cool to a general audience.

Time was when Patrick Moore would look to the skies and, great interlocutor between us and the universe though he is, no-one would argue he is pretty to look at. "TV scientist" at one time meant Moore, celebrated naturalist David Attenborough... and that was pretty much it.

Leading the vanguard in a changing perceptions is physicist Professor Brian Cox, with his planet-sized brain and ability to make women swoon while talking about the Large Hadron Collider.

"Science always was cool," says Watt.

"In Victorian times people attended public science lectures because they were fascinating.

"Science didn't suddenly become boring, but we began to separate science from art and culture. If we are turning kids off science at school, then we are doing something very wrong because gaining knowledge about the world around us is one of the most wonderful things we can do.

"Shows like Inside Nature's Giants are reaching a massive audience, because at no point do we dumb down.

"We simplify, but we're saying to the audience 'this is complicated and you might have to work a little to understand it, but it is going to be so worth it'."

Insisting that science can fire the imagination and enthusiasm of an audience has been 27-year-old Watt's belief since he graduated and set up a production company, Ready, Steady, Science, through which he presented lectures at science fairs and festivals, universities and a wide variety of other venues. Dry and dusty was never going to be his style, and it wasn't long before his distinctive brand of enthusiasm landed him a television presenting role. He has returned to the stage with his show on the history of medicine because telling youngsters that science is interesting is vital.

"The show isn't just for young people – we say it's for the young and those with a youthful enquiring mind," says Rollings.

Watt adds: "It uses animation and puppetry, but in the way that Monty Python used animation. Everything in the show is completely accurate and true; it's just done with a sense of fun. I don't think there's anything wrong with that" .

Dr Death and the Medi-Evil Medicine Show, Leeds Carriageworks Feb 2 and 3 (tickets 0113 224 3801 [email protected]), Theatre in the Mill, Bradford, Feb 24 to 26 (tickets 01274 233200 [email protected]).