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More than just wonderland

By Matin Durrani

A reconstruction of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover at the Quantum to Cosmos festival

I’ve been here at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics for four days now and I felt it was time I should visit the special “tent” containing hands-on displays and exhibits for the public as part of the Quantum to Cosmos festival .

First up inside is a full-scale model of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, which is due to take off in autumn 2011 and land on the red planet in summer 2012.

Round the corner were exhibits explaining quantum computing, superconductivity, polarization and more.

In the centre of the tent, meanwhile, was a 3D movie containing simulations of galaxy collisions, black-hole mergers and the early universe, with a voice-over from Stephen Hawking.

A still of the Alice and Bob videos, which one-minute cartoons about quantum mechanics, featuring two characters called Alice and Bob.

All good stuff – but the question is whether such events will persuade young people to study physics.

Many pupils, and most importantly their parents, decide what to study based on the career opportunities that their chosen field will provide. Somehow we need to show pupils that physics isn’t kids’ stuff – but a decent career move too.

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