Technology and future cities

Here’s a report I enjoyed putting together for a workshop organised by the Foresight future cities project. A very interesting day discussing technologies that come together in cities, steering away (mostly) from the current preoccupation with “smart” cities. Anyhow, this is what I made of the conversation.

There are a load of other interesting essays that were produced earlier in the project on the same site, and look out for some wrap up papers for this fascinating project in the New Year.


Review, with important correction…

There’s a nice review of I, Superorganism just out in Chemistry World. It also points out that I mix up my spectrometry with my spectroscopy (specifically, mass spectrometry). I would have corrected that for the new paperback, which comes out next month, but it’s just too late now…

Never mind. I hope the folks who taught me undergraduate chemistry forty years ago will forgive me!

Schedule in India

In case anyone reading this happens to be in India…   Here’s where I’ll be in the next couple of weeks. I think most of the lectures are public, if I’ve understood the itinerary correctly, so feel free to come along, and say hello!

Thursday, 29th Oct 2015 – Mumbai

 Tata Lit Live Venue: National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA)

3:30 – 4:30 pm                     Discussion on No Man’s Land Imagining the Earth without human                                       Alan Weisman, Jairam Ramesh, Jon Turney

                                                Chair: Alanna Mitchell

                                                Venue: Little Theatre at NCPA

Friday, 30th Oct 2015

2.00 – 4.00 pm                       Workshop on Writing Science: Engaging the Reader

                                                Venue: Sea view room, NCPA

Saturday, 31st Oct – Pune

5.00 pm                                  Lecture at IISER Pune

                                                Topic: Futurama – do past futures cloud our thinking about                                                           futures to come?

Monday, 2nd Nov 2015 – Bangalore

 4.00 – 5.30 pm                       Lecture at National Centre for Biological Sciences

                                                Topic: Futurama – 

Tuesday, 3rd Nov 2015 – Bangalore

4.00- 5.15 pm                         Lecture at Indian Institute of Science

                                                Topic: Home planet – how to see the whole Earth

 Wednesday, 4th Nov 2015 -Thiruvananthapuram

4.00- 5.30 pm                         Lecture at Kerala University campus

                                                Topic: Life as a superorganism                           

Friday, 6th Nov 2015 – Kolkata

 10.00-11.30 am                      Public lecture at Birla Industrial and Technological Museum

                                                Topic: Futurama 

 Saturday, 7th Nov 2015 – Delhi

11.00-12.30 pm                      Lecture at Jaypee Institute of Information and Technology

                                                Topic: Life as a superorganism

India – virtually and then physically

I’m doing an online (google hangout/youtube) chat about I, Superorganism on Friday this week, as part of a clever “virtual literary festival” running from Mumbai.

Details here.


This is a nice prelude to a ten day visit to India for a six city lecture tour, thanks to the British Council and the Indian network of Institutes for Interdisciplinary Science Education and Research, at the initiative of IISER Pune. I’ve never been to the country, so looking forward to being fascinated/everwhelmed/exhausted by it (delete whichever is inapplicable).

I begin at the separate literary festival in Mumbai, then lecturing variously on futures, planetary observation and the microbiome, and doing a couple of writing workshops. I’ll post the full schedule here before I go.

I Superorganism shortlisted

Very pleased to report that I, Superorganism has just been shortlisted for the Royal Society of Biology’s Book Prize.

It’s in the general category – they also have prizes for textbooks. A bit like the BMA book Prize, which a book of mine was shortlisted for many years ago. Unlike the Royal Society Prize, for which I was shortlisted but didn’t win (for a different book again) I went on to win that one, so hoping that’s a precedent…

On the other hand, it’s a really strong list: Atul Gawande, Nick Lane (much the best popular science book of the year, in my opinion), and more. Winner revealed on October 15th.

Postscript – I didn’t win: Atul Gawande did. Congratulations to him! It’s a fine book, and a useful complement to Sherwin Nuland’s equally essential How We Die. I read that 20 years ago, but nearer to the topic now, as it were…

Once an academic…

I’ve been in and around academia one way or another all my life, but only had an actual university position for a decade or so (more than a decade ago now, too). Still, I’m allowed to have a page on and recently uploaded a bunch of stuff I’ve written – it’s easier (for me) to do that there than on a wordpress site like this. That means you can download them, if you’re interested – over here, if anyone wants to take a look.

And here are the individual pieces up so far – an eclectic mix, including a few feature articles, some reports and book chapters, and a few actual journal papers.

Lindau is rather lovely

65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

Great to spend a week in Lindau as part of the meeting held there where Nobel Laureates (60 of them!) spend time with ten times that number of scarily bright young scientists from round the world. I moderated three panels, on human genetic engineering and the moratorium on using CRISPR in human embryos, on the future of science in Africa and on the future of life sciences. (We were planning to have a go at the future of physics, too, but for various reasons that one didn’t come off).

They were crammed into the amazingly crowded Lindau schedule, and more or less worked, I think though the third simply turned into a free-for-all Q&A – which I didn’t resist too hard.

I’m never sure if this kind of thing is my forte, but if anyone else want to invite me to organise panels at a meeting where you can swim in Lake Constance before breakfast, then go to work, do get in touch…

More to the point, not enough people know that all the Nobel winners talks at Lindau are recorded and posted online. The archive is a pretty impressive resource for anyone interested in high achievers in science and how they see their work. Start here.

The pic shows the discussion on future questions for life science in progress – pretty good fun. Venki Ramakrishnan speaks while Jack Szostak, Arieh Warshel and John Schell listen and I just try and look intelligent. Thanks for the invitation!




A nice review

I, Superorganism has its first review in print, and I’m delighted to say it is a pretty good one. Also online here if you want to see it in all its glory. I particularly liked: “What Turney does convey brilliantly is the excitement in these laboratories and what their work might mean for us”.

A remark at the end prompted my editor to raise the matter of updating the text for a trade paperback, not due out for some while yet. Still thinking about that…

Readers comments on I, Superorganism

There are a couple of comments I liked about my new book. Brian Clegg concludes a slightly equivocal review (on Amazon) with this overall verdict: “a really important milestone in our understanding of the complexity and variability of our inner landscape, and as such is a must-have addition to the popular science bookshelf”. He awards it 4 stars.

And my friend Brigitte Nerlich wrote a blogpost about the book which says, among other things: “I have read quite a few popular science books. Some are interesting, some enlightening, some enjoyable. This book has all of these qualities and it does something that good popular science books should do: it makes us think about the world, and in this case ourselves, in new ways; it makes us see ourselves as something else”. Which was what I was trying to do!

Incidentally, you can now read a lightly modified version of the introductory chapter here on Medium.