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On the shoulders of giants

In 1675 Isaac Newton wrote: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. It is believed that this phrase dates back to the 12th century and it has been attributed to Bernard of Chartres: Bernard of Chartres used to compare us to dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants. He pointed out that, ” We see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.”

I used this phrase this morning in a Tweet which I posted in response to the sad news that Professor Stephen Hawking. He surely was a “giant” of modern science but would also be one of the first to admit that the advances and breakthroughs that he is renowned for were only possible because of the brilliant minds that had gone before him. I also used the exact same phrase last Saturday morning as I welcomed 75 budding young scientists to Kingsley School’s Science Open Morning. As I said to the pupils and parents at the start of that day, who knows what amazing things might be achieved in the world of science by the young people who were in our science labs on Saturday morning? Perhaps one of them will be part of a team that develops new cures and treatments for cancer, which cruelly stole a former colleague of mine last week who sadly died well before her time. Perhaps another young person will go on to make a global impact on climate science and help us better understand what we are doing to the world’s climate and how we can reduce our impact. Perhaps another will develop new vaccines from plants and animals that, even now, lie undiscovered in some of the world’s remaining areas of tropical rainforest. There are so many possibilities and I am genuinely excited about the life chances that these young people have in front of them. If our science day last Saturday does nothing apart from help youngsters to ask “why” more frequently, then we will have done a great job.

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