When I say that he engaged the audience, he used wit and wisdom to answer questions and challenges in the most interesting round-about ways, and yet still managed to give a satisfactory answer.
There is no point trying to give an account of the talk that he gave. I will just note a few of the things that I found surprising.
- The family tree of Charles II of Spain, the last of the Hapsburgs, with all its inter-generational loops.
- The Murchison meteorite, which contains traces of one of the four letters of the genetic code - one that we find it difficult to synthesise here on Earth. (And yet the hypothesis of panspermia was rejected as non-scientific. Apparently it is a nice idea but there is no evidence for it.)
- That the Miller-Urey experiment was actually more successful than originally thought. In fact, it produced all 20 essential amino acids - many more than there were able to identify at the time.
- A definition of life - "Life is the opposite of decay"
- GM cress which detects land mines by changing colour - and yet is not on the market due to an intellectual property dispute.
A great evening out! If you get chance to see him you should take it.
Small note: Boo to Martin Robbins for trying to be more than an 'ordinary member' of the audience. He wasn't a very interesting speaker when he was supposed to be the speaker, and he wasn't much better as a member of the audience.