The late Thomas David (know to all as “Dave”) Thompson:
Knutsford SciBar, one of the first in the UK, was founded by Dave Thompson in 2004, with the first meeting taking place in November that year. Dave was passionate about science, and wanted to share his passion with anyone who would listen – the SciBar was an ideal arena to achieve this. His ambition was to involve everyone, regardless of their level of understanding and knowledge, and in his introduction to each meeting he would say that everyone had the right to ask a question, no matter how simple and obvious, or how complex and obscure. The visiting speakers were almost invariably impressed by the SciBar’s organization, and by the audience participation.
Thanks to Dave’s vision and his untiring publicity efforts, so many people turned up at the first meeting in November 2004, that a larger venue had to be found the next month. Since then, Knutsford SciBar has gone from strength to strength. Except for the month of August, there have been monthly meetings ever since, with attendances regularly exceeding 50. As well as founding and running the Knutsford SciBar, Dave helped other people in the North West set up SciBars in their areas – encouraging them to come along to Knutsford meetings to see how it was done, and also attending, with fellow Knutsford SciBarians, early meetings of newly set up groups to give the organizers moral support. There are now at least 10 other SciBars in the North West, and many more in other parts of the country – Dave’s help and inspiration played a considerable part in this growth. In 2007, the British Science Association recognized his efforts and achievements when he was awarded the “Sir Walter Bodmer Award”, presented by Sir Walter himself.
As well as founding the Knutsford SciBar, Dave got involved with the wider community, spreading the word that science is interesting and fun. And he encouraged others to join him in these endeavours. In particular, as a result of Dave’s encouragement, Mobberley resident Roger Gittins joined Dave in becoming a Science and Engineering Ambassador for schools, and promoting STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) in several nearby primary schools. Dave also organized science days at Manor Park primary school in Knutsford – this involved a dozen or so SciBarians taking over the school for a day and organizing many activities, including talking to the children about astronomy, showing them optical illusions, demonstrating how to bake bread rolls, and making and flying paper airplanes. Similarly, at Dave’s instigation, Knutsford SciBar has helped out at science festivals, such as the “Science Explosion” event at the Liverpool World Museum in 2008, and the festival held regularly at Daresbury, and it supports the annual National Play Day event, which Friends of the Moor organize on Knutsford Moor on the first Wednesday in August each year. At many of these external events (and particularly at Play Day), probably the most popular and certainly the most spectacular SciBar activity is the “big rocket”. Children decorate a nose cone which is attached to a rocket (a plastic 2 litre soft drink bottle), and then pull a trigger on a marvellous home-made launch pad. With a bang, and propelled at great speed by compressed air, the rocket takes off for the moon.
The “big rocket” activity, where the rocket is guided along a wire to its target, evolved from a rocket launching competition held at Chester Racecourse in 2008. Dave had been asked if the SciBar would like to enter a team, the other teams being schools. The winner would be the team that could fire a plastic bottle the furthest distance. However the nose cone of the rocket had to carry a raw egg, which had to survive the flight in one piece. Dave accepted the challenge, and set up a team, and a practice schedule. Many hours were spent practicing on the field at Knutsford Sports Club, perfecting the best fins to attach to the bottle, the best angle of trajectory (early in his career, Dave had worked on missile systems), and the optimum pressure of air in the bottle, occasionally sending rockets into the gardens of neighbouring houses. All the practice paid off as, on the day, although one school’s rocket went further, their egg did not survive the landing, so Knutsford SciBar’s rocket was the winner. Subsequently, Dave and Roger took part in a successful Guinness World record attempt for the greatest number of plastic bottle launches in 24 hours.
In all the enterprises he undertook, Dave wanted to add “pizzazz”, to make things more interesting and enjoyable, and so ultimately more beneficial to those taking part. This, along with a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve, is why he was so successful in what he did.
In around 2015, Dave had stepped back from some of the SciBar organization, although he still chaired virtually all the meetings up to and including June 2016. For the year prior to that meeting he had been on a British Science Association committee representing the North West. He had also talked about setting up something totally different, albeit along similar lines: a History Bar. Sadly, this never came to fruition as, a few days after the June 2016 meeting, aged just 76, Dave suffered a massive stroke. And around four months later on October 4th 2016 surrounded by his family he died peacefully at Tabley House Nursing Home. At Dave’s funeral, his son Steve gave a wonderful eulogy for Dave in which, among other things, he described the family weekends which Dave organized for the whole family, and in particular for the grandchildren, involving lots of instructive, but fun activities – and always with pizzazz!