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Unleash your geeky day-tripper

By James Dacey

Be it a day spent relaxing at the beach, a long stroll through the rolling countryside, or an afternoon blowing all your wages at an out-of-town shopping centre: you simply cannot beat a fun day out every once in a while. But there are some people out there who crave a little more intellectual nourishment from their hard-earned days off. Well, a solution is at hand, thanks in part to the science blogger and Guardian columnist, Ben Goldacre, who came up with the concept of NerdyDayTrips.

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The story begins with Goldacre asking his followers on the social-networking site Twitter to suggest half-day trips to unusual destinations in London, listing his interests as “industrial archaeology, urban-explorer type stuff”. The response was huge and it inspired a medical journalist, Jo Brodie, to begin collating the various ideas and organizing them into a searchable list. By September this year the concept had evolved into its current form: a giant world map dotted with tourist attractions and other curious sights that meet with the nerd seal of approval.

So, we thought we would borrow this idea by coming up with a short-list of locations that might be of particular interest to the physicist day-tripper. We want to know your thoughts on this via our latest Facebook poll, in which we ask the following question:

If money were no object, which of these nerdy places would you most like to visit on a day trip?

The CERN particle-physics laboratory, France/Switzerland
The Trinity test site where the first atomic bomb was detonated, New Mexico, US
Bletchley Park code-breaking centre, Buckinghamshire, UK
The Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world’s first space-launch facility, Kazakhstan
Woolsthorpe Manor, birthplace of Isaac Newton, Lincolnshire, UK
The Very Large Telescope, Cerro Paranal, Chile

To cast your vote, please visit our Facebook page. But it’s a big old world, populated by varied demographics of geeks, so please feel free to suggest other physics sites not included on our list. Do this by posting a comment on the Facebook poll.

In last week’s poll, we looked at the issue of physics education. We asked what people considered to be is the “single most important quality of a great physics teacher”. The question was prompted by the recent announcement by the UK government of a new £2m-a-year scholarship programme to help persuade 100 graduates to become physics teachers in English high schools.

The results were conclusive, as 70% of respondents believe that the single most important quality is for a teacher to have an enthusiastic and entertaining teaching style. Some 25% of respondents disagreed, as they believe that a deep knowledge of the subject is more important. Our final three options attracted very little support: 2% felt that prior experience working as a physicist is most important; 2% opted for the teacher having a proven track record of getting good grades out of their students; and just 1% believe that an ability to maintain classroom discipline is the most important attribute.

The poll also attracted a fair number of comments. For instance, Glilium Ho, one of the respondents who opted for enthusiasm and entertainment in the classroom, believes that knowing about physics is of little value to education if it cannot be communicated to others. “To have a deep knowledge is important, but to be able to pass down the knowledge to the others is the most important thing. So that others, too, can stand on the shoulders of giants and look further,” he wrote.

Another interesting comment came from Dileep Sathe from Mumbai, India, who accepts that not everyone will appreciate the theoretical aspects of physics, so flashy experiments are important to maintain students’ interest. “If you are presented with cool experiments every few weeks, you’ll be more likely to give the theory of the phenomenon a chance, instead of just not caring at all,” he wrote.

Thank you for all of your responses and we look forward to hearing from you again on our Facebook page.

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