Pleas for the future of physics education

Two interesting videos were posted yesterday on the problems with the current state of high school physics education. The first is an open letter to Barack Obama from Minute Physics, pleading for the US physics curriculum to include results more recent than the Civil War:

In the second Nottingham academics, and regular contributors to the Sixty Symbols video series, give their views on the situation in the UK:

Personally I found the concepts taught in my school physics courses much easier to grasp once my teachers explained them using the proper maths (mainly calculus!)

Periodic impact

Engaging the public in science is something lots of us are passionate about but how do you measure its impact? This might seem like an unimportant question, but it’s something that funding agencies are increasingly interested in, as they understandably want to check their money isn’t being wasted. It’s also a question addressed by the team behind the popular Periodic Table of Videos project in a commentary published in Nature Chemistry.

Periodic Videos is the forerunner of and cousin to the Sixty Symbols project which I’ve blogged about several times here before. It started out with videos for each element in the periodic table and then expanded to include things as diverse as Einstein’s blackboard, Nobel Prizes, Creme Eggs and Kate Middleton’s engagement ring.

The videos are hosted on YouTube, and the authors initially thought that they could use its statistics for things like page views or subscribers to pin down their elusive impact factor. However, they realised that they couldn’t rely on the YouTube numbers because they didn’t know how accurate they are. Equally, the results could miss people who download the videos or who watch them when they’re embedded into other blogs.

The method that gave them the best impact information ended up being the simplest – they read the comments left below each video. Clearly if you want to know how something has affected an audience, you should just listen to what they say about it! This isn’t necessarily a scientific approach to the problem, but in this case, they seem to be the most accurate. The nicest thing about the comments is that people often ask questions, or make suggestions for new topics, neatly illustrating how engaged with chemistry they’ve become. There’s even a guy wanting advice on building smoke grenades for paintballing!

ResearchBlogging.orgHaran B, & Poliakoff M (2011). How to measure the impact of chemistry on the small screen. Nature chemistry, 3 (3), 180-2 PMID: 21336314

Sixty Valentines

Happy Valentine’s Day to you all and, once again, let’s celebrate with a new video from the great Sixty Symbols project about the forces of attraction:

(come on, it’s nearly as good as getting a card!)

Don’t put your hand in the LHC…

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Quick post to plug two newish videos from the always interesting Sixty Symbols project in which scientists from Nottingham University discuss some of the symbols we use in physics and astronomy. This time however they’re trying something new – answering questions sent in by their viewers on topics ranging from the irritating astronomer/astrologer mistake to what would happen if you put your hand in the beam of the Large Hadron Collider (the answer to that one’s in the second video)!


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It’s Valentine’s Day and, in the spirit of all things heart-shaped, here’s the Universe’s contribution via some friends of mine from the excellent Sixty Symbols project:

It’s good to know that even galaxies have someone to merge with!