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The life of which 20th-century physicist would make the most gripping basis for a children’s novel?

By James Dacey

Boy reading magical book

Some books are magical. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/Valeriy Lebedev)

Today is World Book Day, a celebration of the stories, the characters, the authors and above all the joy of whiling away the hours with a great book. The main aim of the day – which is organized by UNESCO and marked in more than 100 countries – is to encourage children and young people to develop a passion for reading.

Children’s novels have brought us some truly memorable characters over the years, from the classics such as Snow White and Peter Pan, to the more contemporary such as Harry Potter and Lyra Belacqua. The most captivating characters are often the ones we can identify with. We live and breathe their adventures, and we feel their emotional reactions to the unfolding drama. But at the same time, these characters are not the same as us; they are far larger than that. They possess qualities that we can only imagine we had – be it searing intelligence, staggering courage or even magical powers.

The authors who dream up these weird and wonderful characters can sometimes seem to possess their own magical powers of creativity and imagination. But time and again when writers talk about their creations, you hear them say that their inspiration comes from their personal relationships or encounters with intriguing people in the real world. We all know of people who seem to be larger than life, and the world of physics in no exception. This line of thought has been the source of inspiration for this week’s Facebook poll.

The life of which 20th-century physicist would make the most gripping basis for a children’s novel?

Brian Cox
Marie Curie
Albert Einstein
Richard Feynman
Stephen Hawking

Please cast your vote by visiting our Facebook page. If you want to select somebody else as a choice, please can you post a comment on the poll to let us know the physicist you have in mind.

In last week’s poll we also asked you a question relating to physics in fiction, on that occasion relating to film and television. We asked you to select from a shortlist the actor who would get your vote for best on-screen portrayal of a physical scientist. The most popular choice, picking up 34%, was Christopher Lloyd for his portrayal of the eccentric time-traveller Doc Brown, from the Back to the Future films. The runners up were as follows: Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper (23%); Jodie Foster as Eleanor Arroway (15%); Peter Sellers as Dr Strangelove (9%); and Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm (9%).

The remaining 10% of people selected the “somebody else” category. One nomination that cropped up a few times was Sam Jaffe as Professor Jacob Barnhardt in The Day the Earth Stood Still, the original version from 1951.

Thank you for all your participation and we hope to hear from you again in this week’s poll.

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    it was like a journey …


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