The Large Hadron Collider is set to restart any day now, Curiosity is still roaming the red wastelands of Mars, and The Theory of Everything has just earned Eddie Redmayne an Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking. Different events (literally) worlds apart, but they all have one thing in common: they’re making the world a better place.
A few days ago, The Independent reported that “the number of UK students applying to study for a degree in physics had risen by 40 per cent over four years,” with Oxford University seeing an increase in applicants for its physics undergraduate program by a third over five years. Also, Manchester University documenting an increase of 37 percent between 2008 and 2014. Manchester University has been particularly popular in recent years thanks to the high profile of Professor Brian Cox, one of Britain’s leading science communicators.
Since our society is heavily based on the advancement of science, it’s very important to have lots of bright people working in the field – so these figures are certainly very good news. And it seems we have awesome machines like the LHC and Curiosity, but also Hollywood blockbusters like Interstellar or Gravity to thank for that.
Speaking to The Independent, Johanna Kieniewicz from the Institute of Physics attributed this phenomenon to “the introduction of an array of physics-based TV programmes targeted at the general public,” but also to the media coverage of the Large Hadron Collider and the popularity of films focusing on science.
Though it’s always good to have actual statistics backing you, it doesn’t take an elaborate study to show that the profile of physics and astronomy has been on the rise in recent years. Popular scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the aforementioned Brian Cox are national celebrities, shows like Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey have been very well received by both critics and the public. In addition, Interstellar (a movie which deals with unusually advanced physics concepts) was the 10th highest grossing film released in 2014.
This is great as well, because we don’t only need scientists and engineers, we also need people who know or are at least curious to know how the world works. People who think rationally, and appreciate the work said scientists and engineers do and how it benefits society.
Who knows, maybe in a couple of decades, the world leaders who approve funding for an experiment even more impressive than the LHC. Or maybe, the physicists who come up with a true theory of everything will say they were inspired by a Christopher Nolan movie (no, not Batman).