Interview with Darius Nikbin

To celebrate I, Science’s 10th anniversary, current editors Iona Twaddell and Kruti Shrotri met up with Darius Nikbin, the founder of the magazine…

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Did you imagine I, Science would be running 10 years after you founded it?

I thought that we’d run to about three, four, five issues, and then it would just peter out. I honestly didn’t think it would be going for ten years, so I’m amazed. Every time I see I, Science still going on, I’m impressed, I think it’s a great achievement.

What made you want to start I,Science, and how did you do it?

Initially it started with the science section in Felix newspaper. During my physics masters degree, I was amazed that there wasn’t a science section of Felix, so I set one up. When I started doing the science communication course after my physics degree, I came up with this idea to have a science magazine at Imperial College run by students.

As soon as it became a reality in terms of the funding, we started thinking about what a science magazine would look like at Imperial College. We wanted to do something that was original, and, at the time, on a philosophical level, I was thinking about scientism – the view that there is an absolute truth and that science is the best means of approaching that truth – and postmodernism, which deals with relative truths. I, Science was born out of a kind of marriage between the two. And out of these two currents of thought we came up with a paradigm for I, Science and that was science in its social context. For me, science is a socially constructed phenomenon, but it’s socially constructed based on observations of nature. So essentially we started working in this kind of intellectual space that we’d discovered.

How did you come up with the name I, Science?

I came up with I, Science after having recently seen the science fiction film I, Robot at my uncle’s house in New York, and the idea faced no opposition. I, Robot was, of course, based on the Isaac Asimov short story.

What are you doing now?

After I left Imperial College, I did a brief stint at the Times Higher and then I went to work at CERN for four months. And then I went to work at the Institute of Physics Publishing. After that I decided to do independent research with the view to getting a PhD and managed to start working on a new project in the field of Black Holes. Our aim is to get clean energy from black holes through a process called controlled black hole formation. It depends on a discovery of black holes at the LHC this year. So, if black holes are discovered in the LHC, what we envisage is that in a five to ten year timescale we build a new collider for the purpose of producing black holes in a controlled way. That’s the aim.

Have you got a personal favourite science magazine (apart from I, Science!)?

Seed Magazine I’d say is my favourite. One of the difficulties I find with science magazines is that they don’t really put scientists on the spot. When they interview a scientist there is an automatic assumption that they know more than you do; they elevate the person. I suppose I’d like to see, not just I,Science, but all science communicators really challenging the motivation of scientists – ‘why are you doing this?’ I think that Seed Magazine was fairly inspirational in that they did set out to promote science as an intellectual endeavour that isn’t completely separate from other intellectual endeavours.

What is your best memory associated with I, Science?

I was working at CERN and heard that we were shortlisted for the Guardian Student Media Awards. We were quite chuffed that we’d been nominated because we’d only published two issues, and the minimum requirement was three issues. We went to the event and had a great time. And Russell Brand was there! He gave a talk, and wasn’t too complimentary towards Imperial College! I remember meeting him afterwards down at the bar, and we had a brief conversation: And I just remember telling him what I thought of him and he told me what he thought of me!

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