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Big Bang turns youth on to physics

Big Bang Theory
Geek chic: From left to right, Raj, Howard, Leonard and Sheldon of The Big Bang Theory build a fighting robot. (Courtesy: Warner Bros Television Entertainment)

By Hamish Johnston
Sheldon Cooper is an unlikely poster boy for any cause – he’s gangly, self-absorbed and sociopathic. Indeed, the fictional theoretical physicist is more like an alien observer of the human race, than someone to aspire to.

But according to an article in the Observer, the popular character in TV’s The Big Bang Theory – played by Jim Parsons – and his entourage of geeky physics pals are responsible for “a remarkable resurgence of physics among A-level [high school] and university students.” Tom Whitmore, 15, told the paper: “The The Big Bang Theory is a great show and it’s definitely made physics more popular”.

According to the paper, the number of British students studying physics at university has jumped by 10% since 2008 when the show was first broadcast in the UK. However, the article does point out – as Sheldon surely would – that the number of pupils doing physics A-levels (senior high-school courses) in the UK had been rising since 2006. Also, the recent popularity of TV/radio presenter and physicist Brian Cox, and all the publicity surrounding the Large Hadron Collider, are put forth in the article as contributing factors in the physics boom.

If UK students are being turned on to physics by the The Big Bang Theory, the irony will not be lost on physics societies worldwide, which have spent much time and effort on trying to re-brand physics as a cool subject studied by normal people who go on to success in the wider world. It could be that a better way to get teens interested in physics is to appeal to their “inner geek”.

You can read the Observer article here.

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