Galileo Fandango Magnifico

October 14th, 2006 by john

The October 14-20 issue of New Scientist features what may be one of the strangest revelations ever published in a science weekly. Apparently Brian May, the lead guitarist of Queen, took that job instead of pursuing a promising career as an astrophysicist.

Now, however, he has returned to school to finish his doctorate and has co-authored a book titled Bang! The Complete History of the Universe.

What inspired you to return to your PhD after all these years?

You get to this age and you think, I’m still alive when some friends aren’t, and you ask yourself, “Why am I here? What should I be doing?” So there’s that. But a crucial event was inviting professor Francisco Sanchez to the opening of our musical We Will Rock You in Madrid. He had been a kind of extra supervisor for me in Tenerife. Francisco asked, “Are you going to finish your PhD?” and I said, “Yes!” I felt the strands of life coming together again. Crucially, Francisco said I could submit my thesis to the University of La Laguna.

What was it like working on the book?

We had a third collaborator, Chris Lintott, a whizz-kid astronomer from Cambridge. He happened to be at our first meeting and it was immediately clear that he knew a lot more about modern cosmology than we did. I said, we have to include him as the third author. The three of us would meet at Patrick’s house in Selsey on a Friday night, do a little gentle writing, have a couple of drinks, then hunt for Patrick’s cat, Ptolemy, who is an accomplished escapologist. When we got up the next day we were in the mood for serious work. Patrick shocked us by writing the first draft in two weeks. We all then spent the next two years rewriting it. He was good about it. He didn’t mind at all.