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When reading popular-science books, what do you find most stimulating?

By James Dacey

Earlier this week we at Physics World revealed our top 10 popular-physics books of the year as we released this specially recorded podcast. I won’t spoil the surprise by mentioning any of the titles here, but I can say that the list spans a wide variety of books, including biographies, the history of physics and even a tome about cookery.

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As with any “best of” listing exercise, we fully expect that some listeners will disagree with our choices and some may feel strongly that other books have been cruelly overlooked. Of course, there is always going to be some degree of subjectivity in making these choices, and it is not always straightforward to explain what lifts a book from being great to being inspirational. But give the podcast a listen and let us know what you think about our choices by posting a comment on the accompanying article.

In the meantime, it would be great if you could share your thoughts on popular science in general writing by responding to our poll question.

When reading popular-science books, what do you find most stimulating?

The technical details underpinning the science
The personal stories of the scientists
The impact of the science on culture and society
The sense of wonder conveyed by the author

To cast your vote, please visit our Facebook page, and feel free to explain your answer by posting a comment.

In last week’s poll we wanted to gauge your opinion on a topic close to the hearts of both nuclear physicists and chemists. We asked whether you liked the names flerovium and livermorium, which have recently been proposed by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) for the two new elements 114 and 116, respectively.

Flerovium was devised because both elements were created in 2004 by researchers at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna, Russia, which was founded by the prominent Soviet nuclear physicist Georgi Flerovm. Livermorium arose because both elements were confirmed by scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California and the Centre for Heavy Ion Research (GSI) in Darmstadt, Germany. (The German contribution is not recognized because the element Darmstadtium already exists.)

Despite this relatively logical approach to naming, it seems that many respondents are not too impressed with the proposals. Just 30% selected “I like both”, while 49% opted for “they’re boring and unimaginative”. Some 13% said they “like flerovium but not livermorium”. And just 8% said the converse, they “like livermorium but not flerovium”. One pollster, Chandan Dasgupta based in Calcutta, India, took a particular dislike to flerovium, commenting that it “sounds like a health drink!”.

Thank you for all your responses and we look forward to hearing from you again in this week’s poll.

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