Tom McLeish

Character introduction

Tom McLeish, FRS, is Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Department of Physics and also in the Centre for Medieval Studies and the Humanities Research Centre at the University of York, England. His research in ‘soft matter and biological physics,’draws on collaboration with chemists, engineers, and biologists to study relationships between molecular structure and emergent material properties, and was recognized by the Bingham Medal of the Society of Rheology and the Weissenberg Medal of the European Society of Rheology.

He currently leads the UK ‘Physics of Life’network, and holds a 5-year personal research fellowship. Other academic interests include the framing of science, society and history. He coleads the Ordered Universe project, a large interdisciplinary collaboration re-examining scientific treatises from the 13th century, focusing in particular on the works of the English polymath Robert Grosseteste.

Two recent books, Faith and Wisdom in Science (2014) and Let There Be Science (with David Hutchings, 2017), articulate a theological narrative for science, recognised by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lanfranc Award in 2018. From 2008 to 2014 he served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at Durham University and is currently Chair of the Royal Society’s Education Committee. He is currently a trustee of the John Templeton Foundation.

Abstract

A scientifically literate population is able to contribute more effectively to the development of its society. Furthermore, science is the current manifestation of a deep-seated and ancient human drive to comprehend and interact with the world in which we find ourselves.

The journey to becoming a scientifically literate citizen starts at home, where children’s creativity and curiosity are stimulated and nurtured by their families. Informal scientific behaviours such as questioning and testing ideas are then developed and formalised during the school years. In adulthood, scientific literacy is developed through engagement with different media, and potentially in the work environment. Furthermore, far from detracting from scientific literary, engagement with and enjoyment of the arts is an essential aspect of it.

Professor McLeish will describe how the Royal Society supports scientific literacy at different stages of a person’s life and in a variety of contexts. He will describe how the Royal Society has used public participation and dialogue programmes to develop scientific literacy but also to inform advice to policy makers. These projects have covered topics such as machine learning and gene technology.

Having set out the Society’s experiences, the Professor McLeish will then explore the conditions needed for a scientifically literate population to flourish. These conditions span from the culture we seek in our research laboratories, to the breadth of education we ask that our schools and universities to provide.

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