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A drop of action

Ages 14 to 16

Having given up history to teach science, I could never resist bringing up a company of eclectic, inspirational and bonkers scientists as props.

Newton was a rich source. A devout woman-hater (his mother left him at two), he spawned vast amounts of ground-breaking research and then lost them in his office for a few years. His feud with Robert Hooke, the self-aggrandising first describer of a "cell", was legendary and entertaining, like a pompous catfight in long wigs. Newton even became a member of Parliament, but said nothing in the House beyond, "Can you close that window?"

Humanising science with past giants brings an empathy and context that most kids respond to. The tragic tale of how Marie Curie, pictured, lost her husband and co-worker, Pierre, under the wheels of a Parisian carriage always raised a laugh - but maybe it was the way I told it.

But they like gory stories. It seems poetic justice to them that the man who invented CFCs and sent us down the road to global warming was struck down with polio. Badly crippled, he invented a mechanised bed that caught him up in its loops and pulleys and strangled him.

Galileo always remained my favourite, though. He was the first scientist to, well, experiment. And despite a row with the Church that usually saw scientists being done extra-crispy at the stake, Galileo held on (it probably helped that his old school chum grew up to be the Pope). As a lesson in sticking to your principles, it worked for me Katy Bloom is professional development leader, National Science Learning Centre

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