Liz Bonnin

Liz Bonnin

Liz answers our questions about her scariest moments, love for big cats and nearly fainting on live TV!

Planet Science was lucky enough to interview Liz Bonnin - scientist, TV presenter and passionate advocate for big cat conservation.

Liz studied biochemistry at university and then followed her love for animals, especially big cats, to study for an MSc in wild animal biology. Now, Liz is lucky enough to combine her passion for science and TV on programmes like Bang Goes the Theory and Museum of Life.

Liz on Bang Goes the Theory

Liz on Bang Goes the Theory

Here, we let our Planet Science readers ask the questions. Read on to find out what happened!

What's your favourite thing that you've done as a scientist or TV presenter?

I've had so many amazing experiences and I'm still learning so much. During my MSc I went to Nepal to study the diet of tigers. This involved studying lots of scats, or poo to you and me! The research involved long hours and lots of hard work, but when I started to get results it was a fantastic feeling and very rewarding. Knowing that I was doing my bit to help tiger conservation made the whole thing worthwhile.

Recently I travelled to Hawaii as part of BBC Stargazing Live. I visited Mauna Kea, with its 13 telescopes run by 11 countries, all exploring deep space and galaxies as far as 13 billion light years away - that's almost at the edge of our Universe! I learnt a lot about astronomy, a science I'm not so familiar with, and it was fascinating and awe-inspiring.

Have you had any near-disasters whilst you've been filming?

Mauna Kea is 14,000 feet high with only 60 per cent oxygen, so the crew and I were all very out of breath and dizzy when we got up there. We were doing a live broadcast and the director and I were discussing what we would do if I passed out on live TV. But lucky for me it all went smoothly!

Mauna Kea_93775522

Mauna Kea - a hard place to do a live broadcast!

The scariest thing I've done was during Bang Goes the Theory. I went on a drill in a NASA submarine rescue system, which rescues stranded submariners. Just before we docked with a submarine 80 metres below the surface of the ocean, the two captains of our rescue pod locked themselves off in a separate section of the pod. If anything went wrong when we docked with the submarine, they were indispensable, but we were not! We docked safely, but for a moment I was very scared!

You can watch the clip of Liz's nerve-wracking trip in the submarine rescue pod on the BBC Schools website.

What would you do if you weren't a TV presenter?

I'd be in India working on tiger conservation. I'm considering a PhD in the future. I just think that it's really important to make a difference while we are here, and the fact that tigers are in so much trouble because of us is unacceptable to me.


Liz has studied tigers in Nepal

Who is your science inspiration or hero?

Charles Darwin is definitely an inspiration to me. James Lovelock, who came up with the Gaia hypothesis, is wonderful. He has such a passion for the planet and is a true scientist, with his natural curiosity about the world. He is definitely a hero of mine.

The other scientists who inspire me are the unsung heroes who are doing incredible work that the public never get to hear about. I was doing a programme on the Gulf oil spill and we went to a pelican rescue centre. It was very hot and the scientists there - vets and biologists - were doing incredible work 24/7. I was so tired when I left after just 6 hours, but they were still going, tirelessly dealing with all the oiled birds continuously coming in. They were amazingly dedicated and passionate. Scientists carry out incredible work behind the scenes that allow us to live our lives the way we do, and I don't think that we recognise this enough.


Scientist cleaning pelican during Gulf oil spill_IBRRC

Scientist cleaning pelican during gulf oil spill (cc) IBRRC

What's your favourite experiment or demonstration?

Biology is really hard to demonstrate on TV. I once spent three hours in a pub with our Bang researchers discussing how to demonstrate how genetic recombination occurs as sex cells are made!

I have lots of favourite demonstrations. One is when Bang Goes the Theory went to Iceland to show how volcanoes erupt. We demonstrated it using a flask half-filled with water on top of my car. We reduced the pressure as we heated the water up with a gas stove. If the pressure inside the flask is reduced, the boiling point of water decreases. It's the same principle with the earth's hot, solid mantle. As it moves upwards through the Earth's crust, the pressure decreases, so its melting point decreases too. The mantle melts into magma and erupts as lava.


Demonstrate how a volcano erupts using a flask and some water

Finally, what do you think makes us, nature or nurture? Are we who we are through our genes or our environment?

We carried out some experiments on Bang Goes the Theory that showed that both nature and nurture are important. If you dress small children in the wrong clothes - dress boys in girls' clothes and girls in boys' clothes - adults will give children gender specific toys. So boys dressed in girls' clothes are more likely to be given dolls than girls dressed in boys' clothes.

But researchers carried out an experiment with monkeys that showed something else. Young monkeys pick gender specific toys to play with. Male monkeys are more likely to pick trains and female monkeys are more likely to pick dolls. So both nature and nurture make us who we are.

Thanks for answering our questions Liz!

Follow Liz's lead and find out where your passion and curiousity can take you. Who knows where you might end up?