Nigel Henbest

Nigel Henbest

Nigel Henbest is an award-winning science populariser, specialising in astronomy and space. His 38 books and over 1000 articles have been translated into 27 languages, and he has produced over a dozen television documentaries and series. Nigel is a columnist for The Independent newspaper and BBC Focus magazine, and was formerly astronomy consultant on New Scientist magazine.

Nigel was born in Manchester, and brought up in Belfast. At the University of Leicester, he obtained a First in astrophysics. He researched in radio astronomy at Cambridge, under the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Ryle, before returning to Leicester to spearhead a project on predicting the eruptions of Mount Etna.

His lifelong passion for science communication then led Nigel into a career promoting astronomy and space in the media. His acclaimed books include Exploding Universe, The New Astronomy and The Planets. With Heather Couper he has written Guide to the Galaxy, Space Encyclopedia, The History of Astronomy and the annual Philip’s Stargazing (Philip’s) which recently featured in the Top Ten bestsellers.

For over a decade Nigel was Astronomy Consultant to New Scientist magazine: he has also published in the Sunday Times, the Guardian and the UNESCO Courier; and he has contributed to Longman’s New Universal Dictionary and Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Nigel has been Media Consultant to the Royal Greenwich Observatory, Editor of the Journal of the British Astronomical Association, Chairman of National Astronomy Week and External Assessor on Astronomy to the Open University. He devised and co-wrote the play It’s All in the Stars (promoting astronomy to children in a pantomime style), which toured nationally after opening in the Bloomsbury Theatre in London. On BBC Radio, Nigel has co-hosted Seeing Stars and chaired the iconic science quiz The Litmus Test.

Nigel’s TV career began with the BBC Horizon programme IRAS: The Infrared Eye. With Heather Couper and Stuart Carter he founded the leading international TV production company Pioneer Productions. As a television producer and scriptwriter, Nigel’s major credits include Universe (winner of the Glaxo-Wellcome Science Writer’s Award), On Jupiter (which took the Grand Award at the New York Festivals), Black Holes, The Day the Earth was Born, Journey to the Edge of the Universe, and the recent eight-part series How the Universe Works.

Nigel is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. He has published research papers in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Journal of Physics and – on archaeoastronomy – in British Archaeological Reports. Asteroid 3795 is named “Nigel” in his honour. As well as lecturing internationally – from New Zealand to Colombia – and leading expeditions to view total eclipses of the Sun, Nigel has been signed up as an astronaut by Virgin Galactic, to fly into space in 2014.

Press comment: “I am absolutely delighted to accept the Honorary Doctorate from my alma mater, University of Leicester, which helped launch me on my career as a science populariser – twice over!

“The University of Leicester’s innovative, flexible and forward-looking curriculum for undergraduates attracted me as an A-level student (even though the Head of Science at my school recommended I should apply to Cambridge “where, Henbest, you will rub shoulders with your peers!”)

“In fact, I found my peers at Leicester, both in the vibrant student life – where I ended up running the Astronomical Society with my life-long friend from Leicester days, Heather Couper – and in the inspiration from the Departments of Astronomy and Physics (which in those days were distinct). In fact, my first published article – on a visit to the sixteenth century Danish observatory on the island of Hven – appeared in the magazine of the student Physics Society!

“On the Physics staff, Prof. Ken Pounds was establishing the X-ray Astronomy group which has propelled Leicester to the forefront of space research worldwide: I was privileged to work as a junior member of the space team over one summer vacation. And, down in the Astronomy corridor, Prof. Jack Meadows had a vision that stretched beyond the material universe – from Victorian Studies to Primary Communication – that helped me to imagine a career beyond the doors of academia.

“After experiencing Cambridge at first hand, I returned to Leicester at the request of Dr Allan Mills, to build and install equipment to monitor eruptions of Mount Etna. It involved driving to Sicily in a basic Land Rover (navigating by the World Atlas of Wine!). While living in a wonderful Regency flat in New Walk, and exploring the glorious countryside of East Leicestershire, I was inspired to pen my first book. It launched a freelance career that – on my move to London – gave me five consultancies a week, including the prestigious position as Astronomy Consultant to New Scientist magazine.

“Since then, while I’ve been busy with books, articles, radio programmes and producing television series (see the Biographical Note), I’ve always kept up contact with Leicester, and have usually contrived to return here every couple of years or so.

“But no previous visit to Leicester has given me anything like the joy and excitement of this invitation to return to the University which first directed my feet on the path to astronomy, to public outreach – and to the stars.”

Nigel Henbest receives his honorary degree - YouTube video

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