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Who is the most inspiring of the current physics communicators?

By James Dacey

Some have dubbed it the “Brian Cox effect”, others cite a whole raft of reasons, but all concerned agree that physics in the UK has undergone something of a popularity transformation in recent years.

Indeed, applications to study undergraduate physics (including astronomy) increased by 34% between 2004 and 2009, rising year on year. And the trend appears to be continuing unabated.

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According to the nuclear physicist Jim Al-Khalili of the University of Surrey – himself something of a media darling these days – there have been 320 applicants for 60 physics places this year at his institution alone, a 40% increase from last year. And this increase has occurred despite a 10% overall decline in applications at the university – blamed on the nationwide rises in tuition fees introduced this year.

To me, it is impossible to attribute the recent resurgence in physics to one specific reason. But I believe it is clear that the likes of Brian Cox and Jim Al-Khalili have helped to rebrand physics, thanks to their passionate communication of science in the popular media and their knack for explaining difficult ideas using simple, everyday concepts.

In this week’s Facebook poll question, please give us your opinion on the following.

Who is the most inspiring of the current physics communicators?

Brian Cox
Brian Greene
Michio Kaku
Lisa Randall
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Stephen Hawking

And, of course, feel free to explain your choice or suggest an alternative communicator by posting a comment on the poll.

In last week’s poll we asked you a question related to particle physics. We wanted to know where you think the International Linear Collider (ILC) – a proposed successor to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – should be built.

Some 52% of respondents opted for CERN, the home of the LHC on the Franco-Swiss border. 30% went for Fermilab in the US, which hosted the LHC’s former rival accelerator, the Tevatron, which shut down towards the end of last year. 11% believe it is time for Japan to have its turn, following recent speculation in the Japanese press that the ILC could be built on the island of Kyushu. The remaining 6% believe that the ILC should never be built.

Thank you everyone for your responses and we look forward to your responses in this week’s poll.

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