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Showcasing the applications of physics

By Matin Durrani

Most readers of this blog first got interested in physics for a variety of reasons — be it an inspiring teacher, a good popular-science book, or just a deeply held desire to get to the bottom of something really quite hard.


Sadly, not everyone has the same passion for physics as physicists themselves. People are, of course, perfectly happy to reap the benefits of physics — be it finding their way in the car using a GPS sat-nav system, downloading the latest movies over the optical fibres of the Internet, or getting treated with an MRI scanner when they’re ill.

But that does not mean non-physicists want to know anything about physics. Even worse, many people aren’t even aware of what physics can do.

Now, though, my colleagues at the Institute of Physics have published an excellent report that outlines, at a very simple level, how physics has contributed to 10 different technological developments.

Entitled Physics for an Advanced World, the glossy full-colour report can be downloaded for free here

Launched at the House of Commons earlier this week, it has 10 case studies showcasing the the social and economic benefits of physics — each with great photos, accessible text and a useful timeline. Other applications in addition to those mentioned above include holography, lasers and, of course, the Web itself.

Without which you would not be reading this blog.

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  1. Dileep Sathe

    Showcasing the applications of physics is, no doubt, a good idea for attracting young students – but I think it doesn’t work always. Take the case Josie, as an example, who left physics after studying it for one year in the school, when she was about 15 year old. What could have motivated her to do that? My guessing about it, based on a simple common experience, can be found in a letter in Physics Education, UK, July 2007.

  2. Erwin Lalik

    This is supposed to be a scientific document, presenting the achievements of modern physics, but politics is lurking from behind lines nevertheless. Although global warming is not directly dealt with, yet it has received favourable mentions four times in a single chapter. I think it might have been a good idea for the authors to refrain from referring to what seems to be an achievement of the power of propaganda rather than the power of modern physics. In my opinion, it undermines the credibility of the whole document, which is very unfortunate, as otherwise it seems like a fascinating account of scientific endeavour.

  3. Berne Scadelli

    Nice little glossy piece of physics PR. I loved it, yet I’m not exactly sure how wide an audience it will reach. It still looks a bit too “scientific” to me for the “man on the street”. Perhaps if physics could somehow be tied in with something that really appeals to people…Maybe something like…celebrity scandals! Now THAT would definitely create a stampede for physics courses. I mean, one glance at the current news will tell you that celebrities are deeply involved with physics on a daily basis: dodging paparazzi, fleeing law enforcement, crashing into things, etc.
    Is it possible to be quite mad and at the same time quite intelligent? Cognitive science empatically agrees with this notion. According to cog sci experiments, otherwise highly intelligent people can often make some very irrational errors in judgment. Emotion seems to trump intellect almost ever time. It’s what allows us to turn a blind eye to mountains of evidence, until the day comes and that mountain falls on us.

  4. Alex

    I haven’t read it yet but I’ll take Matin’s word for it. However, there has been another excellent article along the same lines by ex director general of CERN Llewellyn Smith, titled “What is the use of basic science”. “Google” it…it’s really worth it…


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