What was your earliest ambition?
To be an astronomer or an astronaut. I’d still like to see the Earth from space – one day I will.
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
Hulme Grammar School, a private school in Oldham. I left school at 18, joined a band and made two albums – I didn’t go to university until I was 23. It was perfect for me: although I used to take science books with me when we were on tour, I wasn’t quite ready to really focus on physics at the age of 18, but by 23 I was. I loved that process of learning how to think, which is one of the most valuable things about university. I went to the University of Manchester, where I still am.
Who is your mentor?
My PhD supervisor, Professor Robin Marshall.
How physically fit are you?
I’ve recently taken up boxing to get fit again and I’m loving it.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
I think it’s inspiration. You have to find something you’re fascinated by and love doing. Most people, I think, are able to do great things if they find something that they love.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
How politically committed are you?
Very, in a non-party-political sense; my issue, obviously, is science. How do you make Britain the best place in the world to do science? That’s the question I ask of every politician I meet.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
I have a large one and there’s no getting away from it. Particle physics is an international pursuit.
Do you have more than one home?
The family home is in London but I’ve got a tiny flat in Manchester.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
Something handwritten by Einstein. For me, he was the greatest physicist of all time – beyond a genius.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
Food and wine, together and separately.
In what place are you happiest?
At home. I travel too much.
What ambitions do you still have?
If I could persuade the government to invest significantly more money in science, engineering and education, I would be pleased. I’d like to see everyone educated to the level they’d like to be.
What drives you on?
The exhilaration of understanding new things.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Professionally, writing a thesis is tremendously rewarding, and probably the hardest thing that most academics ever do. I have a fondness for the Wonders of the Solar System series. I think it’s energetic – maybe a bit naive, but I like that.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
I haven’t really got any. I don’t mind failures. The only way to avoid failure is not to do anything.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
“So you didn’t manage to be a global rock star.” But he’d be thrilled that I ended up with a career in physics.
If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
I’d be delighted to be a full-time academic.
Do you believe in assisted suicide?
Do you believe in an afterlife?
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Ten, with the caveat that, while I’m perfectly happy with my position, I’m not implying I think I’m great.