It’s Not Rocket Science – meet the presenters

Rachel Riley, Ben Miller and Romesh Ranganathan join ITV for a new science entertainment show – but how nerdy are they in real life?

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Rachel Riley

Studied mathematics at Oxford, before being selected as co-host on Countdown

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Why do you love science?

The fact that science is always evolving and answering questions is fascinating. We feature a man who got cancer and was told he wouldn’t be able to walk again. But two scientists made him a pair of bionic trousers and he was soon walking around. There was a problem there – so a scientist came along and solved it.

How far would you go to get everyone excited about science?

I had to zip-wire through 450° flames with my bare skin showing. Before I did it they sprinkled water on my skin, so that the flame would burn the water off and not hurt my skin. We were in this huge aircraft hangar. But just before I was about to get on the zip wire, a fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate. If ever there was a sign telling me not to do it, that was it!

Favourite science fact?

I’m amazed that the placebo effect works in surgery. I talked to an expert about someone who had placebo shoulder surgery – opening someone up, not doing anything to them then sewing them back up again – and is now better. That’s the power of the mind. It’s crazy!

Ben Miller

Studied natural sciences at Cambridge, before becoming a sketch comedian

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Why is science important?

Science is not something separate from everyday life. It’s really an amazing thing to explore. It’s a spiritual thing for me. It takes me to places I wouldn’t get to otherwise. It takes me out of everyday life and into a world of science fiction and imagination. It’s almost like a religion. It’s somewhere I go to cheer myself up, and what could be better than that?

Do you worry science has a nerdy image?

No. This is a very exciting time for science. It has cast off that image through the amazing advances that are being made. It’s all changed in recent years. Science is now as much a part of the culture as football.

Have you learnt anything presenting the show?

I went down a disused mine in Anglesey to find this life form called “snottite”. It’s a bacterial colony that eats metal and secretes sulphuric acid, as you do. It’s like an alien life form.

How far would you go to get everyone excited about science?

I took part in a terrifying experiment to prove that every object falls at the same rate in a gravitational field. They fired flaming arrows at my head – which were intercepted by a falling bag of apples at the very last moment. I’d never experienced anything like that before – I get a tension headache just thinking about it now!

Favourite science fact?

Life on Earth began on the seabed where there was no light and no oxygen. How did it survive? Electrical potential. Inside vents on the seafloor were bubbles of iron sulphide. There was an electrical charge across the bubble and the first life form used that to power chemical reactions.

Romesh Ranganathan

Taught maths at secondary school before becoming a stand-up comedian

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Do you worry that science has a nerdy image?

Obviously, drafting me into this show has shattered that geeky image straight away [laughs]. Actually I think the idea of science as geeky is quite old-fashioned. From my experience in teaching – although I wasn’t a great teacher, to be fair – the science teachers are always the coolest. They are always off doing cool stuff. But we are not consciously trying to smash “geeky” preconceptions on this show. All we’re doing is making a programme informed by our own interests and doing things that we hope will excite people.

How far would you go to get everyone excited about science?

We wanted to show the power of a vacuum cleaner. If you have a large enough nozzle, you could theoretically use a domestic vacuum cleaner to lift a small plane or car. So I was attached to a board attached to a household vacuum cleaner and suspended in mid-air. Obviously they didn’t want me to be suspended above nothing – there would be no glamour in that. So they decided to hold me above a tank full of crocodiles. It felt like I was up there for ages. I shouted at the producers, “You must have got the shot by now!” I was actually up there for about a minute, but it felt like three and a half months! I was on the phone to my agent immediately – “I know I want exposure on primetime TV, but I don’t know if this is worth it!”

Favourite science fact?

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I always thought that the explosions in space that they show in sci-fi movies might be over the top. But what we discovered on It’s Not Rocket Science is that because a spaceship has air inside it, when it blows up, you get these amazing explosions. So the movies are accurate. As a massive Star Wars fan, that was something I was very happy to find out!