Philip Ball
Born1962 (age 58–59)
Alma mater
OccupationScience writer
Notable work
Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another

Philip Ball (born 1962) is a British science writer. For over twenty years he has been an editor of the journal Nature for which he continues to write regularly.[1] He now writes a regular column in Chemistry World. He has contributed to publications ranging from New Scientist[2] to the New York Times, The Guardian, the Financial Times and New Statesman. He is the regular contributor to Prospect magazine,[3] and also a columnist for Chemistry World, Nature Materials and BBC Future. He has broadcast on many occasions on radio and TV, and in June 2004 he presented a three-part serial on nanotechnology, Small Worlds, on BBC Radio 4.


Ball's most popular book is the 2004 Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another, winner of the 2005 Aventis Prize for Science Books. It examines a wide range of topics including the business cycle, random walks, phase transitions, bifurcation theory, traffic flow, Zipf's law, Small world phenomenon, catastrophe theory, the Prisoner's dilemma. The overall theme is one of applying modern mathematical models to social and economic phenomena.[4]

In 2011, he wrote The Music Instinct in which he discusses how we make sense of sound and how music entices us. He outlines what is known and still unknown about how music has such an emotional impact, and why it seems indispensable to humanity. He has since argued that music is emotively powerful due to its ability to mimic humans and through setting up expectations in pitch and harmony and then violating them.[5]

Ball holds a degree in chemistry from Oxford and a doctorate in physics from Bristol University. As of 2008 he has lived in London.



His book Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another won the 2005 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books,[9] and his book Serving the Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Physics under Hitler (The Bodley Head) was on the shortlist for the 2014 prize.[10] In 2019 he won the Kelvin Medal and Prize.


  1. ^ "Philip Ball - Science writer". Philip Ball. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
  2. ^ Ball, Philip. "Engineering light: Pull an image from nowhere". New Scientist. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
  3. ^ Ball, Philip. "Curse of cursive handwriting". Prospect Magazine. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
  4. ^ Ball, Philip. (2004). Critical Mass - How One Thing Leads to Another. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  5. ^ How The Light Gets In, 2013. "Music's Mystery". Institute of Art and Ideas. Retrieved 19 November 2013.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Shackelford, Jole (2007). "Paracelsus, Healer of the German Reformation". Chemical Heritage Magazine. 25 (3): 45. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  7. ^ Mangravite, Andrew (2015). "Magical Thinking". Distillations. 1 (4): 44–45. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  8. ^ Vickers, Salley (11 August 2014). "Review of Invisible: The Dangerous Lure of the Unseen by Philip Ball". The Guardian.
  9. ^ "Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books". Royal Society. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  10. ^ Melissa Hogenboom (10 November 2014). "Materials book wins Royal Society Winton Prize". BBC. Retrieved 11 November 2014.