I am a scientist, writer and broadcaster
I am an Australian scientist, living half the year in England and half in Australia (guess which half!). I specialize in food, biophysics, and nano-engineering, although I have also been involved in mining engineering, fundamental physics, future forecasting and philosophy. In the late 1990s, while maintaining my activity in many of these areas, I switched my focus to writing, speaking and broadcasting to help make science accessible and more an integral part of our culture, primarily by showing how scientists think about the problems of everyday life.
I have sometimes made media headlines through light-hearted projects along these lines. These projects have included the physics of biscuit dunking (which led to the award of an Ig Nobel Prize at Harvard University), the absorption of gravy by a roast dinner (which led to my being voted by The Times as “an enemy of the people”), whether hot or cold water freezes faster in a bird bath in winter (demonstrated live on the BBC Radio 4 “Today” programme), the formula for the perfect cheese sandwich, and how best to stir porridge. 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. 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. I have also made many radio and television appearances worldwide, including three series for BBC Radio 4 (The Science of DIY, The Sweet Spot and Redesigning the Body), and many programmes for Radio National in Australia. I have also written numerous feature articles for newspapers and magazines, including two series for The Guardian (co-authored with Peter Barham) on The Science of Cooking.
More recently, I have focused my attention on serious social and global issues, first with a book Weighing the Soul: The Evolution of Scientific Ideas (2004), which was concerned with showing how science actually works, 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).
These books led to invitations to become actively involved with groups working in these areas. I have written an invited chapter in a textbook on counseling and psychotherapy (on the role of game theory in human interactions), and have been working for the past decade on understanding and coping with the interconnectedness between global threats such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and increasing disparities in wealth and living standards. This work has been in collaboration with the Swiss-based International Risk Governance Council, for whom I prepared a major report “Preparing for Future Catastrophes” (2011); Oxford University’s Institute for the Future of Humanity, where Anders Sandberg and I have prepared a major policy review “A Safe Governance Space for Humanity: Necessary Conditions for the Governance of Global Catastrophic Risks” (to appear in Global Policy); economists, sociologists and historians at Doshisha University of Kyoto and The University of Wollongong, Australia on transforming the global economic system (two chapters in “The Kyoto Post-COVID Manifesto for Global Economics – Confronting Our Shattered World” (Springer); and complexity scientists from Binghampton University, New York and the Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity at the University of Oldenburg, Germany, with whom I am writing an invited review for Nature Sustainability on reassessing sustainability in the light of interconnectedness and complexity.
I continue to complement these more academic endeavours with articles, talks and radio broadcasts (see accompanying list) intended to bring these important issues to public attention.
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
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
- Senior Research Fellow, School of Physics, University of Bristol, UK
- 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
- Honorary Member, Pembroke College Cambridge Winnie-the-Pooh 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
- Member, Editorial Board, Journal & Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales
- Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to science
- FISHER, LEN & SANDBERG,A. “A Safe Governance Space for Humanity: Necessary Conditions for the Governance of Global Catastrophic Risk” (Global Policy, in press)
- IN PRESS Achieving Transformation in Our Highly Interconnected World I: Systems Thinking and Network Thinking. In The Kyoto Manifesto for Global Economics (2nd Edition) New York: Springer
- IN PRESS Achieving Transformation in Our Highly Interconnected World II: The Role of the Individual In The Kyoto Manifesto for Global Economics (2nd Edition) New York: Springer
- FISHER, LEN (2021) To build resilience, study complex systems. Nature 595, 352.
- FISHER, L.R. & NINHAM, B.W. (2020) Casimir forces: recurring subtleties
- FISHER, LEN (2020) Lord Robert (Bob) May OM, AC, FRS, FAA, FTSE, DistFRSN (Baron May of Oxford) January 8, 1936–April 28, 2020, Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales 153, Part 1
- FISHER, LEN (2019) Mercury, Royal Australian Chemical Institute Stories from the Periodic Table
- FISHER, LEN (2018) Global challenges: personal reflections on the Stockholm “New Shape” competition Journal & Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales 151, 213-231.
- FISHER, LEN (2018) Insurance-based global governance, Global Challenges Foundation
- 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 150, 18-30.
- CHIVERS, TOM (2017) Here’s How The BBC’s Science Presenters Think It Should Cover Climate Controversies, Buzzfeed News
- 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 (2016) Are you a polymath? Times Higher Education Supplement, online
- 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 Approach299-317.
- 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.
- COMING UP Working Towards a More Humanistic Society: Challenges for the Self in an Interconnected World. 8th International Symposium on Humanistic Buddhism, Nov 6-8
- COMING UP How To Win an IgNobel Prize. Bristol Scientific Club, October 23
- Food and Foodways in Science Fiction (with Anders Sandberg, Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford) Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, July 9-11.
- Politicians need to see linkages in our world. ABC Science Show May 29
- The Future of Food: An Integrated Global Challenge. Talk for “Food Futures in the Anthropocene”, University of Tasmania, Nov 7-10
- Pursuing power vs pursuing understanding: the root cause of society’s problems, Mother Earth Heroes Show
- The real science behind the Ig Nobel Prizes, Mar 10, University of Oldenburg, Germany
- A life in science communication: lessons learned and lessons failed, Mar 12, University of Applied Sciences, Bremerhaven, Germany
- Tragedy of the commons now being played out in space, ABC Radio National Science Show, Mar 14
- Scientists struggle with their message, ABC Radio National Science Show, July 18
- Self-interest preventing progress on world problems, ABC Science Show
- Mercury, Shakespeare and me, Royal Australian Chemical Institute Awards Ceremony
- Interview Mother Earth’s heroes show podcast
- Vale biologist Sydney Brenner (inventor of Ockham’s broom), ABC Science Show
- The Brexit Minister for Food Security, Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery
- The optimal way to dunk a biscuit, Ig Nobel awards show, Stockholm
- Navigating Systemic Risk and Critical Transitions, Human Current online interview, Episode 119
- Preserving connections, A talk to the Institution of Civil Engineers, Bath, UK
- Communicating science: Dr Len Fisher’s grand plan, Blue Mountains Gazette interview
- Antarctic protection vital for ecosystems’ long-term future, ABC Science Show
- Curating host @IAmScicomm Dec 17-22
- Communicating long-term problems to short-term politicians, ABC Science Show
- Steve Yabsley interview, BBC Radio Bristol – copy available on request
- The science of toffee apples, Royal Institution, London
- Let’s share the thrill and exhilaration of discovery!, ABC Science Show
- How to make a fizzy champagne jelly, Chemistry in the Pub, Sydney
- Communicating science: A slightly jaundiced view, Physics Department, University of Bristol
- Facing up to climate change, a talk to the Bradford-on-Avon climate change group, Bradford-on-Avon, UK
- Preserving food and preserving buildings, a talk to the Bradford-on-Avon preservation society, Bradford-on-Avon, UK
- Chickens’ guts and chefs’ tools, Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, Oxford, UK
- Global warming and the global food landscape: why we need to maintain diversity, Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, Oxford, UK
- The insanity of under-exertion of the brain, ABC Science Show
- Why are the wealthy so wealthy and the poor so poor?, ABC Science Show
- The relics of scientists, Ockham’s Razor, ABC Radio National
- Seeing patterns (even when they aren’t there) Ockham’s Razor, ABC Radio National
- Australian tax law splits science and humanities, ABC Science Show
- Einstein’s socks, Ockham’s Razor, ABC Radio National
- The physics of Dante’s Hell, Ockham’s Razor, ABC Radio National
- My Ig Nobel Prize revisited, BBC World Service
- Food and Desire, Keynote talk, 2nd Dublin Gastronomy Symposium