I am a scientist, writer and broadcaster
who works to share how scientists think about the problems of everyday life. I have won an Ig Nobel Prize (and been voted by the Times newspaper as an “enemy of the people”) for showing how physics could be used to work out the best way to dunk a biscuit, and have written and broadcast extensively about the role of science in food, cooking and gastronomy. More recently, I have become increasingly concerned with the risks that the world now faces. I am especially concerned to communicate understanding of systemic risk, where societies, ecosystems and economies may suddenly change or collapse, slowly-developing catastrophic risks, where imperceptible changes can bring us to the brink of disaster before we realize it, and resilience in the face of risk.
I addressed the underlying problems in a trilogy of books: Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life (on the problem of cooperation); The Perfect Swarm: The Science of Complexity in Everyday Life (on making decisions in complex situations); and Crashes, Crises and Calamities: How We Can Use Science to Read the Early-Warning Signs (on predicting and dealing with sudden and sometimes catastrophic change in economies, nature and society).
Following publication of these books, I have become increasingly involved with the practical issue of how we can make the best decisions in this complex world. I have made keynote speeches, addressed expert workshops, published reports (such as “Preparing for Future Catastrophes”), written feature articles (such as “Governance of Slowly Developing Catastrophic Risks”, “How Scientists Can Communicate with Politicians“, and “Flying Blind Into the Future”), and made radio programmes (such as my “Ockham’s Razor” programme on Australian radio about the problems of social decision-making and, more recently Coping with Life’s Surprises (on minimising risk)). I also run active blogging, Twitter, and LinkedIn programmes.
My most recent keynote addresses have been for the Aon Benfield Hazards Conference Risk Re-imagined (Gold Coast, Australia, September 19-20 (2017)) and as a finalist in the world-wide Global Challenges New Shape competition (Stockholm, May 26-29 (2018)). I am currently working in collaboration with colleagues at the Future of Humanity Institute (Oxford) and elsewhere to develop a fresh understanding of the concepts of resilience and cooperative global governance.
I originally trained as a physical chemist, working in the area of colloid and surface science, although I have since taken a degree in biology and an MA (with distinction) in philosophy. After nearly two decades working in food research in Australia (I am Australian by birth), with excursions into biomedical science, nano-technology, mining engineering, and philosophy, I moved to the UK, first in the anatomy department at University College London, and then in the Physics Department at the University of Bristol, where I still hold an honorary position, and which I combined for a while with teaching science communication at the University of the West of England.
I am now primarily a writer, speaker and broadcaster, working to make science accessible by showing how scientists think about the problems of everyday life
In the News
I have always been concerned to promote science as an integral part of our culture, and for a brief period held a British Association Media Fellowship, working with the (now defunct) BBC TV programme “Tomorrow’s World”, where I was responsible for running a competition to design and throw indoor boomerangs, including establishment of a new world record. My real break came, however, when I was asked by a publicity company to use science to work out the best way to dunk a biscuit. I tell the full story in my blog. Briefly, it led to the award of an IgNobel Prize, an invitation to write a book, and being voted by the Times newspaper as “an enemy of the people“.
Since then I have frequently made media headlines through light-hearted projects on how scientists tackle the questions of everyday life. Apart the physics of biscuit dunking, I have looked at the absorption of gravy by a roast dinner, the design of a perfect cheese sandwich, how best to stir porridge, and whether hot or cold water freezes faster in a bird bath in winter (demonstrated live on the BBC Radio 4 “Today” programme). I have twice been a speaker at London’s Royal Institution, and I am a regular speaker at the annual Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, where I am also a member of the advisory board.
All of these activities had the aim of showing how scientists think. I have now made many radio and television appearances worldwide with the same objective, including three series for BBC Radio 4 (The Science of DIY, The Sweet Spot and Redesigning the Body), and quite a few Ockham’s Razor and Science Show programmes for Radio National in Australia. I have also written numerous feature articles for U.K. newspapers, including two series for the Guardian on The Science of Cooking and a number of full-page feature articles for the Daily Mail.
My best-selling book How to Dunk a Doughnut: The Science of Everyday Life (2002) was translated into eleven languages, and resulted in my election as “Science Writer of the Year” by the American Institute of Physics.
This was followed by Weighing the Soul: The Evolution of Scientific Ideas (2004), which was concerned with showing how science actually works (although one bookshop misinterpreted the title and put it in the religious section!), and then with a trilogy about the role of science in addressing the major problems that we now face: Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life (2008) (on the problem of cooperation); The Perfect Swarm: The Science of Complexity in Everyday Life (2009) (on making decisions in complex situations); and Crashes, Crises and Calamities: How We Can Use Science to Read the Early-Warning Signs (2011) (on predicting and dealing with sudden and sometimes catastrophic change in economies, nature and society.
Science on the beach, Australian style
- B.Sc. (Hons) Chemistry and Pure Mathematics (University of Sydney)
- M.Sc. Radiation Chemistry (University of Sydney)
- Ph.D. Physics of Surfaces (University of New South Wales)
- B.A. Biological Sciences (Macquarie University)
- M.A. (with commendation) Philosophy (University of Bristol)
- Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales
- Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry
- Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute
- Fellow of the Institute of Physics
- Fellow of the Linnean Society
- Foundation Chairman of the Biophysical Chemistry Subject Group for the Royal Society of Chemistry
- Sometime consultant for companies that include Unilever, Kodak and the Swiss perfume and flavour company Firmenich
- Member, Advisory Panel, Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery
- FISHER, LEN (2017) Flying blind into the future: do actuaries need a new way of thinking? The Actuary, July.
- FISHER, LEN (2017) Society as a complex system: how can we make the best decisions for our future? Journal & Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales 520.
- FISHER, LEN (2016) My Top 10 Cookbooks
- FISHER, L., FLORIN, M.-V., & NURSIMULU, A. (2016). Governance of slow-developing risks in socio-ecological systems Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology & Life Sciences Newsletter 24(1).
- FISHER, LEN & GRIFFITHS, BLEDDYN (2016) Nepal: not all it seisms Geoscientist (July issue)
- FISHER, LEN (2016) Books to read before going to University Times Education Supplement/Times Higher Education Supplement (April 14th)
- FISHER, LEN (2015) Avoid major disasters by welcoming minor change. Nature 527, p.9.
- FISHER, LEN (2015) The birth of something small. Chemistry World October, pp. 66 – 69.
- FISHER, LEN & TESH, JOHN (2015) How to advise a politician. Physics World 28, pp 30-33.
- FISHER, LEN (2015) In support of basic science. Wall Street Journal (October 30th)
- FISHER, LEN (2015) John Nash obituary Guardian, May 26th
- FISHER, LEN (2015) Music inspired Newton’s rainbow Nature 520, p. 436.
- FISHER, LEN (2015) More than 70 ways to show resilience. Nature 518, p.35.
- FISHER, LE N (2015) Global warming and future food supplies SAGE Encyclopedia of Food Issues
- FISHER, LEN (2014) Philae lander: Rename comet probe after Greek hero. Nature 515, p.492.
- FISHER, LEN (2013) Preparing for Future Catastrophes. Report for the International Risk Governance Council (PDF)
- FISHER, LEN (2013) How can I trust you? Encounters with Carl Rogers and Game Theory Interdisciplinary Handbook of the Person-Centred Approach
- FISHER, LEN (2013) Scientific genius: Will continue to thrive. Nature 494, p. 430.
- FISHER, LEN (2012) Shaping policy: science and politics need more empathy. Nature 481, p. 29.
- FISHER, LEN (2011) “Crashes, Crises & Calamities: How We Can Use Science to Read the Early-Warning Signs”.
- FISHER, LEN (2009) “The Perfect Swarm: The Science of Complexity in Everyday Life” (New York: Basic Books).
- FISHER, LEN (2008) “Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life” (New York: Basic Books).
- FISHER, LEN (2007) “The Ockham’s Razor Principle”. In Robyn Williams (ed) “Lies, Deep Fries and Statistics” (Sydney: ABC Books)
- FISHER, LEN (2005) Living by numbers. New Scientist 187, 16.
- EASTAWAY, ROB & FISHER, LEN (2003) Hosts with the most New Scientist 180 (December) 47-49
- FISHER, LEN (2002) “How to Dunk a Doughnut: The Science of Everyday Life” (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson).
- WESCOTT, J.T., , FISHER, L.R. & HANNA, S.(2002) Use of thermodynamic integration to calculate the hydration free energies of n-alkanes J .Chem. Phys.116, 2361.
- fisher, LEN (2000) Characterisation of bilayers Current Opinion in Colloid and Interface Science 5, 215-216.
- FISHER, L.R. (1999) Physics takes the biscuit. Nature 397, 469.
- FISHER, LEN (1999) Proud to be silly New Scientist 164, 65.
- FISHER, L.R. & MALLOY, A.R. (1999) Molecular interactions of biomembranes. Annu. Rept. Phys. Chem., 95.
- FISHER, L. & LASIC, D. (1998) Biologic Aspects (of Colloid and Interface Science) Current Opinion in Colloid and Interface Science 3, 509 – 510.
- FISHER, L. (1998) Time for a change? New Scientist 157, 64.
- CARRINGTON, S.P., FISHER, L.R. & ODELL, J.A. (1998) Microrheology of swollen starch granules. In “Gums and Stabilizers in the Food Industry 9” (Eds. P.A. Williams and G.O. Phillips) Royal Society of Chemistry Special Publication No. 218, pp 371-380.
- AVEYARD, R., BINKS, B.P., CHO, W.G., FISHER, L.R., KLINKHAMMER, F. & FLETCHER, P.D.I. (1997) Investigation of the Force-Distance relationship for a small liquid drop approaching a liquid/liquid interface. Langmuir 12, 6561-6.
- FISHER, L.R. (1997) Chemists through the looking glass. Chemistry in Britain 33(7), 34-5.
- FISHER, L.R., CARRINGTON, S.P. & ODELL, J.A. (1997) Deformation Mechanics of Individual Swollen Starch Granules. In “Starch: Structure and Functionality” (eds. P.J. Frazier, P. Richmond & A.M. Donald), RSC, 105-114.
- FISHER, L.R. (1997) In the realm of intangibles. New Scientist No. 2113/2114, p.75.
- FISHER, L.R. (1996) Total Internal Reflection Spectroscopy of Biomaterials. In “Surface Analytical Techniques for Probing Biomaterial Surfaces” (ed. J. Davies), CRC Press, 43-66.
- AVEYARD,R., BINKS,B.P., CHO,W-G.,FISHER,L.R., FLETCHER,P.D.I 7 KLINKHAMMER,F. (1996) Investigation of the force-distance relationship for a small liquid drop approaching a liquid-liquid interface. Langmuir 12, 6561 – 6569.
- CARRINGTON, S., ODELL, J., FISHER, L.R., MITCHELL, J. & HARTLEY, L. (1996) Salt Effects on Extensional Rheology of Dilute Xanthan Solutions. Polymer 37, 2871-5.
- FISHER< LEN (1995) The physics of sex. Physics World 8.
- FISHER, L.R. (1994) Protein and Cell Interactions with Biomaterial Surfaces. In “Surface Properties of Biomaterials” (eds. R.West & G.Batts), Butterworth-Heinemann, 3-10.
- HEWITT, D., FORNASIERO, A,D., RALSTON, J. & FISHER. L.R. (1993) Aqueous film drainage at the quartz/water/air interface. J.Chem.Soc.Faraday Trans. 89, 817-822.
- FISHER, L.R. (1993) Surface forces in biological systems. J. Chem. Soc. Faraday Trans., 89, 2567-2582.
- HOWLETT, C.R., EVANS, M.D.M., WILDISH, K.L., KELLY, J.C., FISHER, L.R., FRANCIS, G.W. & BEST, D.J. (1993) The effect of ion implantation on cellular adhesion Clinical Materials 14, 57-64.
- FISHER,L.R. (1992). A scientist’s view of philosophy. Cogito, Summer Issue, 96-9.
- FISHER, L.R., MITCHELL, E.E., HEWITT, D., RALSTON, J. & WOLFE, J. (1991). Drainage of a thin aqueous film between a solid surface and an approaching gas bubble. Colloids & Surfaces 52, 163-174.
- FISHER, L.R. (1991). Biocolloids, biosurfaces and biofouling. Chemistry and Industry, 15 April, 272-5.
- FISHER, L.R., MITCHELL, E.E. & PARKER, N.S.(1989). The effect of adsorbed lysozyme on interaction forces and coalescence of triglyceride droplets in aqueous salt solution. J. Colloid Interface Sci. 128, 35-41.
- FISHER, L.R. & MITCHELL, E.E. (1989). The effect of adsorbed proteins on interactions between emulsion droplets. in “Food Colloids” (eds. R.D.Bee, P. Richmond & J. Mingins), Royal Society of Chemistry 1989, pp.123-138.
- BOWERS, V.M., FISHER, L.R., FRANCIS, G.W. & WILLIAMS, K.L. (1989). A micromechanical technique for monitoring cell-substrate adhesiveness: measurements of the strength of red blood adhesion to glass and polymer test surfaces.J.Biomed.Mat.Res. 23, 1453-1473.
- FISHER, L.R., MITCHELL, E.E. & PARKER, N.S. (1988). The effect of surfactants on interactions between emulsion droplets. In “Advances in Food Emulsions and Foams (eds. E.Dickinson & G.Stainsby). Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp.45-90.
- HUNTER, R.J. (1987). “Foundations of Colloid Science”. Written in collaboration with D.Y.C.CHAN, L.R.FISHER, N.S.PARKER, R.M.PASHLEY, J.RALSTON & L.R.WHITE. Oxford University Press.
- FISHER, L.R., MITCHELL, E.E. & PARKER, N.S. (1987). Isolated and interacting triglyceride-water interfaces. In “Food Emulsions and Foams” (ed. E.Dickinson), pp. 230-241. Royal Society of Chemistry, London.
- FRANCIS, G.W., FISHER, L.R., GAMBLE, R.A. & GINGELL, D. (1987). Direct measurement of cell detachment force on single cells using a new electromechanical method. J. Cell Sci. 87, 519-524.
- FISHER, L.R., MITCHELL, E.E. & PARKER, N.S. (1987). A critical role for interfacial compression and coagulation in the stabilization of emulsions by proteins. J.Colloid Interface Sci. 119, 592-4.
- KELLY, J.C., FISHER, L.R., HOWLETT, R., KEIRNAN, E.C. & EVANS, M (1987) Biological tissue adhesion to ion-implanted surfaces. Proc. Mater. Res. Soc. 93, 35-39.
- VARDY, P.H., FISHER, L.R., SMITH, E. & WILLIAMS, K.L. (1986). Traction proteins in the extracellular matrix of Dictyostelium discoideum slugs. Nature 320, 526-9.
- FISHER, L.R., PARKER, N.S. & HAYDON, D.A.,F.R.S. (1986). Interferometric studies of lipid bilayer interactions. Royal Society of Chemistry, Faraday Disc. 81, 249-266.
- FISHER, L.R. & PARKER, N.S. (1985). How do food stabilizers work? Food Res. Quarterly 45, 33-9
- FISHER, L.R. & PARKER, N.S. (1984). Osmotic control of bilayer fusion. Biophys.J. 46, 253-8.
- DILGER, J.P., FISHER, L.R. & HAYDON, D.A. (1982). A critical comparison of electrical and optical methods for bilayer thickness measurement. Chem. Phys. Lipids 30, 159-176.
- ISRAELACHVILI, J.N., FISHER, L.R., HORN, R. & CHRISTENSEN, H.K. (1982). Measurement of adhesion and short-range forces between molecularly smooth surfaces in undersaturated vapours and in organic liquids. In “Microscopic Aspects of Adhesion and Lubrication (ed. J.M. Georges), pp.55-69.
- FISHER, L.R. (1982). Forces due to capillary-condensed liquids: limits of calculations from thermodynamics. Adv. Colloid Interface Sci. 16, 117-125.
- FISHER, L.R. (1971) A sensitive method for estimating noncondensable gases using a Toepler pump as a McLeod gauge reservoir. J Physics E: Scientific Instruments 4, 608-609.
- FISHER, L.R., GAMBLE, R.A. & MIDDLEHURST, J. (1981). The Kelvin equation and the capillary condensation of water. Nature 290, 575- 6.
- FISHER, L.R. & ISRAELACHVILI, J.N. (1981). Experimental studies on the applicability of the Kelvin equation to highly curved concave menisci. J. Colloid Interface Sci. 80, 528-41.
- FISHER, L.R. & ISRAELACHVILI, J.N. (1981). Direct measurement of the effect of meniscus forces on adhesion: a study of the applicability of macroscopic thermodynamics to microscopic liquid interfaces. Colloids & Surfaces 3, 303-319.
- FISHER, L.R. & ISRAELACHVILI, J.N. (1980). Determination of the capillary pressure in menisci of molecular dimensions. Chem. Phys. Letters 76, 325-8.
- FISHER, L.R., ISRAELACHVILI, J.N., PARKER, N.S. & SHARPLES, F. (1980). Adhesion measurement. In “Microbial Adhesion to Surfaces” (eds. P. Rutter et al), pp.515-7. Ellis Horwood Ltd., Chichester, U.K.
- FISHER, L.R., PARKER, N.S. & SHARPLES, F. (1980). Interference method for the measurement of thickness variations in thin liquid films. Optical Engineering 19, 798-800.
- FISHER, L.R. & OAKENFULL, D.G. (1980). The role of hydrogen bonding in the formation of bile salt micellles. 2. A demonstration of geometric effects on the stabilizing role of hydrogen bonding. J.Phys.Chem. 84, 936-7.
- FISHER, L.R. & LARK, P.D. (1979). An experimental study of the Washburn equation for liquid flow in very fine capillaries. J. Colloid Interface Sci. 69, 486-92.
- FISHER, L.R. & ISRAELACHVILI, J.N. (1979). Direct experimental verification of the Kelvin equation for capillary-held liquids. Nature 277, 548-9.
- FISHER, L.R. (1979). Measurement of small contact angles for sessile drops. J. Colloid Interface Sci. 72, 200-5.
- FISHER, L.R. & OAKENFULL, D.G. (1977). Micelles in aqueous solution. Chem.Soc.Rev. 6(1), 25-42.
- OAKENFULL, D.G. & FISHER, L.R. (1977). The role of hydrogen bonding in the formation of bile salt micelles. J.Phys.Chem. 81, 1838-41.
- DAVENPORT, J.B. & FISHER, L.R. (1975) Interaction of water with egg lecithin in benzene solution. Chemistry & Physics of Lipids 14, 275-290.