Thursday, August 18, 2011

Physics Is Cool Again?

This article reports on the increase in enrollment in physics classes in the United Kingdom and presents the case that maybe studying physics is "cool" again.

The total number of students entered for physics A-level has increased by 6.1%, from 30,976 in 2010 to 32,860 in 2011. Applications for physics courses at university are also up by more than 17% on last year and astronomy is up by a whopping 40%.

Commentators believe that this increase is partly due to students thinking more about their future employment prospects - but some suggest that the surge in interest is that physics has become "cool" again.

The article offers several reasons for this increase, among which is the "Cox Factor", attributed to Brian Cox and his "geek chic" image. But essentially, no one knows why.

Still, this statistics is consistent with the latest statistics in the US as well that shows an increase in physics enrollment. Maybe we're on to something. Or maybe it's in the water....



Anonymous said...

Perhaps this isn't the best way but I don't know another way of contacting you. I saw this paper which says in the abstract "This result suggests the existence of a condensed-matter version of the ‘Higgs mechanism’ where particles acquire a mass through spontaneous symmetry breaking."

Since you have form talking about the contributions of BCS, Anderson (in particular), etc, to particle physics, I thought that bit might interest you ;)

HM said...


I have taken a quick look at the "Nature physics" paper and have some comments.

First of all, the (abelian) Higgs mechanism originated in Condensed matter physics and then generalized and applied in particle physics. Therefore its not particularly interesting to show "the existence of a condensed-matter version of the ‘Higgs mechanism’"!

Second, as I understand, they claim to see spontaneous breaking of time-reversal symmetry on the surface of the topological insulator. This lifts the Kramers degeneracy and thereby opens up a gap or in other words gives the surface fermions a mass. This has nothing to do with the Higgs mechanism! It appears that they put in inappropriate buzz words like "Higgs mechanism" and "particle physics" and claim to "bridge condensed-matter physics and particle physics", in order to create the right amount of hype so they can publish in Nature Physics.

The paper appears to be very nice with high quality scientific content. I just think its sad one needs to sell papers like this with inappropriate buzz words


HM said...

By the way, they speculate that exotic many-body effects or critical fluctuations associated with a Quantum phase transition, might be the source of the spontaneous TRS (and thereby, fermion mass generation).

This would be much more interesting than the Higgs mechanism.