Dr Leahy is a real scientist who studied and taught at Oxford University for many years but decided that he wanted to be more active in life and to spread the message about the issues that confront a huge majority of the worlds population - deadly diseases and killer bugs!
By spreading the messages he aims to raise awareness and provoke governments and companies to invest in programmes to combat the problems.
Dr Mike Leahy is certainly not what we expected a scientist would be. He turned up wearing a t-shirt with skulls on it and with an ear piercing. He was asked to leave school reception as they though he was a stray and did not realise he was actually our very distinguished guest speaker! When he was younger he was expelled from school and mended and raced motor bikes.
After taking a different direction in life he moved into academics and the dreamy spires of Oxford but even these could not hold his burning passion for real active science. Thus he decided to join the BBC and made his name in TV doing real life science in a programme called ‘Rough Science’. However, even this was too tame for Dr Mike so after the second time he was arrested, he joined a different department and was given his own channel!
It was after his experiences of working for TV that he discovered that the documentaries made were highly exaggerated and often sent the wrong impression out to the audience. As he explained in his lecture, creatures such as the Burmese Python and Alligators are not as dangerous as television make out - it’s more the smaller animals such as the Changa beetle which are life threatening and wide spread.
As a virologist, Leahy started his first point on Viruses. He talked about various diseases including small pox, polio, cholera, leprosy, tetanus, Leishmaniasis and Chagas disease. His talk was very interesting, especially as we got to see the gruesome images of the effects on humans on the screen behind him. His main point that recurred throughout was that although the death toll was astronomical but still relatively easy to count, the people who were affected by the disease and had to live with it in extreme discomfort not being able to function properly in society was far higher.
The other half of his lecture was on worms; hook worms, ascorsis round worms and tape worms. Again, there were many disturbing images which provoked violent and raucous reactions from the audience- a student’s dream!! Leahy also explained his own experiments in which he grew tape worms inside himself to see what would happen, and because it paid good money.
The feeling at the end of the lecture was one of paranoia - everyone passed on eating the biscuits on offer and seemed to be rushing out to go and wash their hands.
There was a question and answer session at the end which was thoughtful and interesting. This proved so popular that the evening continued in the school bar over a couple of beers and a curry with the 6th form a staff.
The lecture was definitely one of the most exciting and best lectures we’ve had for the Academic Society and we look forward to Mike Leahy coming back next year. Everyone who went said how much they enjoyed it and agreed that it was well worth going to. Those that did not attend wished they had.
Dr Mike was an inspiration to all and I am sure he has turned the heads of many of our top academics in regards to how engaging, real and active science can be.
“If being chased down the road by a black mamba, hold it by the sharp end and scream. Sooner or later, someone will find you.”