The Poetry of Science

Think “scientific” and “creative” are opposites? Physicist Tom McLeish begs to disagree.

“We forget, in science, that what we call the scientific method is really only the method for a tiny bit of science. It’s the only bit of science that there can be a method for, which is testing out and checking our hypotheses when we’ve got them. The really crucial step in science is to get good ideas going in the first place, to have great new insights, to imagine whole new structures of the world, or fungus on the trees, or black holes, or whatever it might be. Now, there really is no method for having great, innovative, scientific, imaginative, creative ideas. So where do they come from?”

Tom McLeish is a physicist and author, and talks about science more enthusiastically than anyone else you’ll ever meet. His current title is Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of York – and “natural philosophy” is far from the only unusual term he likes to use when talking about science. 

His latest book is The Poetry and Music of Science: Comparing Creativity in Science and Art, and in this conversation he explains what being a scientist and being an artist have in common; why it is that experimental science and the English novel got going at about the same time; and why he thinks the “book of nature” might be written in poetry rather than prose.

And in the spirit of bringing art and science together, the American poet Mary Peelen reads two of her poems, “Chaos Theory” and “Supernova”, from her award-winning collection Quantum Heresies.

Check out The Poetry and Music of Science by Tom McLeish:


Read or listen to the Mary Peelen poems found in this episode at Radar Poetry, used with permission:

“Chaos Theory”:


Discover more of Mary’s poems at

Image courtesy of NASA