Posted in authors, interviews

Kim Doherty on Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist: 2016–2020

MEET THE AUTHOR

Kim Doherty is an editor, storyteller, teacher, and a mum to two young children, who she hopes will be inspired by the amazing world of science and Alan’s story. Today we’re thrilled to chat to her about her new book, a biography in the Aussie STEM Stars series – Alan Finkel.

From the publisher:

As Australia’s Chief Scientest, our country turned to Alan Finkel for advice on everything from climate change to artificial intelligence, to the pandemic. But at a time when scientists have never been so important, Alan nearly didn’t become one at all!


How did you go about your research for writing about Alan Finkel? 

I did a LOT of reading. It’s lucky that I love reading as well as writing, as there is so much to read about Alan – he’s always busy doing something interesting. I read all the speeches he’s ever given (and that is no small feat – there are hundreds) and a lot of his scientific papers. I confess, some of the papers were a bit too complicated for me to understand, but I did my best. I spent a lot of time interviewing Alan of course, but I also chatted to his colleagues, his friends and his family (his sister had lots of funny stories to tell. It’s a good reason to always be nice to your sister – you never know who she’ll talk to about you in the future!)

Did you meet Alan Finkel while you were writing the book?

Alan and I had grand plans to have lunch together in Melbourne, where we both grew up. Then he was so busy that we changed it to Canberra, where his office was as Chief Scientist of Australia. Then he was due to give a speech in Sydney, where I now live … but then something got in the way: Covid-19. There was no way of travelling or meeting face to face during the pandemic, so we did all our chatting on zoom. Which I have to say was fun! It was like being teleported straight into his living room in Melbourne, without ever having to walk out my own front door in Sydney. (And once, I was still secretly wearing my slippers. Ssshh!).

As Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel worked in many different areas of science – technology, biology, science education, the pandemic, climate change – and in the book we learn that perhaps his greatest passion is taking care of our planet. Which area of STEM do you find most interesting?

Oh I love all of it, I wish I’d studied more science at school. Alan is always fascinating to talk to, but perhaps my favourite of the many STEM topics we chatted about was how science can help look after our planet. For example, Alan believes that clean hydrogen can power our vehicles instead of dirty fossil fuels, and it turns out that Australia is a great place to produce hydrogen. You can make hydrogen from water, and instead of emitting nasty greenhouse gases, its only byproduct is water vapour! It’s exciting to think that, thanks to our scientists, Australia could play an important role in looking after our beautiful planet.

In addition to this biography about Alan Finkel you’ve also written a book for children about Mt Everest. Do you have a tip for children who’d like to write nonfiction?

Hmm, I’m sure your clever readers would think of this themselves but my advice is this: find a topic you’re really interested in, because it’s a lot more fun to read and write about a subject you love. It doesn’t mean you have to know a lot about it when you start, but you need to be ready to read a lot first, and then talk to people who know a lot, before you even start to write yourself. If you’ve really worked hard on the research, the writing bit is easy and fun. Go on, give it a try!

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

To be honest, I am still trying to work it out. I love writing about amazing people, and there are so many of them in Australia – scientists of course, but also people from all walks of life who are doing wonderful, brave things. It’s an honour to tell those stories, so thank you for reading them. I hope they inspire you too.


Alan Finkel is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book store or local library.

Take a sneak peek inside the book

Image shows the cover of a biography about Alan Finkel written for children. The title is Alan Finkel, Australia's Chief Scientist: 2016 - 2020. Story told by Kim Doherty. Text at the top of the book's cover says Aussie STEM Stars. The cover is predominantly dark blue and shows an illustration of Alan Finkel. Alan has short grey hair and is wearing a pale blue collared-shirt with a maroon tie and a dark grey suit jacket. He has fair skin and dark blue eyes. Other symbols on the cover include sketches of a human brain, a computer chip, and a lightbulb (the last of which is shining brightly, yellow).

Author:

This post was added by Rebecca Newman. Rebecca is a children's writer and poet, and the editor of the Australian children's literary blog, Alphabet Soup. For more about Rebecca visit: rebeccanewman.net.au.