Profile: Randall Munroe, xkcd creator and author of new science book What If?

Who is... Randall Munroe?

The former roboticist for NASA offers serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions

At the age of 29, Pennsylvania-born Randall Munroe is a former roboticist for NASA who has given a TED talk and who has an asteroid named after him. Yet it’s his only webcomic xkcd which has brought him all his public success. As he prepares to launch new book, What If?, we look (non-scientifically) at what he’s all about.

What is xkcd?
A word which has no meaning, and which Munroe particularly likes because it has no actual phonetic pronunciation. It’s also his regular stick-figure web comic, in which a generation of geeks and science-literate readers are tickled by jokes about maths, science and technology.

What’s the new book about?
Entitled What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, it’s a compilation of xkcd’s ‘What If?’ column, in which readers pose not entirely serious or just plain baffling questions to Munroe and he attempts to answer them in as scientifically straight a manner as possible.

What kind of questions?
How fast, for example, can you hit a speed bump, driving, and live? When (if ever) did the sun go down on the British Empire, a touchy subject right now? When will Facebook contain more profiles of dead people than living? How many humans would a T-Rex rampaging through New York need to eat every day to survive? These, the blurb tells us, are exactly the kind of questions you’ll find out the answers to. Possibly.

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions is published on Thu 4 Sep by John Murray.