Archive for April, 2014

Nuclear Nonsense in The Independent

April 28, 2014

Can you spot the difference between the two headlines below?

Two headlines for the same independent story about the plight of residents of the Chernobyl district of the Ukraine

Two headlines for the same Independent story about the plight of residents of the Chernobyl district of the Ukraine. The first one claims there are ‘cemetaries the size of cities’: this is not true.

That’s right: The first shocking headline claims the existence of’cemeteries the size of cities’. The implication is clear: that vast numbers of people have died as a result of the Chernobyl disaster.

This was not my understanding, and  I was so shocked by this claim that I tweeted the author: you can read our conversation below:

weets exchanged with Thom Davies. I have no idea if this was personal or public conversation - twitter is like that!

Tweets exchanged with Thom Davies: Thom didn’t reply to my last question. t have no idea if this was personal or public conversation – twitter is like that!

After this exchange I thought I would re-read the article and was surprised to find that the headline had changed. Indeed, I wondered if I had been mistaken in what I had seen, but fortunately I had left a browser window open and was able capture an image of the earlier page.

So what have we learned?

Firstly we learn that there are no ‘cemeteries the size of cities’ containing the unacknowledged dead from Chernobyl.

Secondly we learn that despite the absence of ‘cemeteries the size of cities’, the Chernobyl disaster was just that: an ongoing disaster played out in the lives of poor people trying to earn a living.

The ‘point’ of the article was probably to draw attention to their plight and to cause people to think twice about nuclear power in the UK. However by making unjustified and hyperbolic claims, the whole article becomes discredited: which parts should we believe?

And finally we learn that The Independent is continuing its splendid tradition of nonsense front page ‘scare’ stories. They have sadly taken down their front page story from  Sunday 20th January 2008.

That story began routinely reporting results of an unrefereed conference article which claimed that mobile phone radiation affected the sleep of a cohort of people studied. Scratching around for supporting evidence they wrote:

It also complements other recent research. A massive study, following 1,656 Belgian teenagers for a year, found most of them used their phones after going to bed. It concluded that those who did this once a week were more than three times – and those who used them more often more than five times – as likely to be “very tired”.

I would like to finish by saying that ‘you can’t make this stuff up’. Except that The Independent can. And continues to do so.

My life in three minutes

April 27, 2014
MIchael de Podesta

Michael de Podesta

The other day Rhys Phillips sent me an e-mail asking if I would contribute a scientist profile for his show on Radio Cardiff.

He seemed desperate – after all he was asking me! – and so, flattered, I agreed.

All that was required was for me to talk unscripted into a phone for three minutes, describing my entire life and the essence of my job

I think Rhys has edited this a little – but I can’t spot what he has taken out. It is more or less verbatim, my life in three minutes, in one take.

It is curious the things which popped into my head, but most telling that my first thought is about my family.

Pythagoras’s Trousers

Rhys himself is a science communicator extraordinaire and the radio show he produces and hosts – Pythagoras’s Trousers – is pretty impressive – and a good listen if you are a science-y type.



Jeff Flowers

April 22, 2014
Jeff Flowers died today Monday 21st April 2014.

My friend Jeff Flowers died Monday 21st April 2014.

My friend Jeff Flowers died a few hours ago, and I just thought I would write a few words about him.

Jeff was kind, quiet, thoughtful, very smart and had a sense of humour that kept him going through difficult times.

At work, Jeff just wanted to do physics all day, every day, and felt frustrated when he couldn’t get the time to complete the experiment on which he had been working for so long.

His work involved the study of the spectrum of hydrogen. Using ultra-precision measurement techniques, his aim was to study the tiniest details of the spectrum and to compare them with calculations.

The results of his measurements could be summarised in an estimate for the value for the Rydberg Constant, a number that involves several fundamental constants – the mass of the electron, the Planck constant, the electric charge of the electron, and the speed of light.

An ultra-precision measurement of this constant checks the consistency of independent measurements of each of the other constants. Since the values of some of these constants will form the basis of the new international system of units, it was a measurement of fundamental importance.

It is difficult to convey the mindset required to do this kind of work. In my own work – which I think is pretty tough – we measure quantities with uncertainties around 0.1 parts per million (ppm). In terms of lengths this would involve measurements of a distance of 1 kilometre with an uncertainty of a tenth of a millimetre: impressive.

But fractional uncertainties in Jeff’s experiments were a million times smaller again – equivalent to trying to measure of a distance of 1 kilometre with an uncertainty of 0.1 nanometres – or the diameter of an atom. This is mind-blowingly difficult.

Work of this kind requires a mindset that can cope with the fact that one needs to worry about everything – Jeff was a natural at that! But it also requires one to think of ways to work around the problems – and that was Jeff’s true talent.

You can grasp the astonishing nature of his work from the fact that one of the key inputs to his experiment was an estimate of the radius of a proton, the fundamental particle  that forms the heavy centre of every hydrogen atom. So in 2010 Jeff was one of the few people on planet Earth who reacted with more than mild interest to a revised  estimate of the size of the proton.

In the face of this revised measurement, Nature turned to Jeff to explain its significance: The article can be read here  and I can hear Jeff’s calm and methodical tones as I read it.

I remember Jeff showing me his apparatus when it was still in the basement of Bushy House. We had to bend down because of the low arches in the ceiling, and I started through a window at the pinkish-purple hydrogen plasma, and was taken aback at the simplicity of the experimental concept, and the sheer chutzpah of the measurement uncertainty that he targeted.

Jeff was 51 when he died, and he had been diagnosed with bowel cancer around 6 years ago. When he told me of his illness, he seemed calm and not very interested in the treatment – keeping working as along as he could.

It sounds ridiculous to say it now, but because of his calmness, I don’t think I understood until very recently just how serious his illness was.

I sat with him on Friday and then spoke with him after he woke. He was lucid and calm. He seemed weak but in control, and I thought I would wait until this week to visit again. Too late.



Feedback: Listen with words not numbers

April 16, 2014
Feedback affects us

Feedback affects us (Image from Wikipedia)

Feedback is a modern word describing the process of assessing whether an enterprise (a business, a car or a country) is in some sense ‘on course’.

  • Negative feedback is the most valuable feedback – but rarely the easiest to deal with.
  • Positive feedback is always pleasant – like being stroked – but is often difficult to distinguish from politeness.

But whether it is positive or negative, genuine feedback is like gold-dust.

So at Protons for Breakfast we take great care to get as much as we can. We take extensive open-format feedback each week and show people that we take it seriously by replying to every note, no matter how apparently trivial.

And at the end of the 6 week course we collect final course feedback.But rather than offer people 5-point tick boxes, we instead create the time and space in which people can write sentences.

I am convinced that people’s choice of words communicates more powerfully than a numerical metric, even if it can’t be easily graphed or expressed as a statistic.

To try to convince you of this I have listed edited highlights below, or you can download the unexpurgated version here.

Like many science communicators, I take what I do ridiculously seriously. And the thought that it touches people’s lives is almost unbearable poignant.

The feedback below moved me to tears. But knowing that “86% of the people were ‘very satisfied or satisfied’” would leave me cold. See what you think.

Feedback from the 19th presentation of Protons for Breakfast

One thing you learned…

  • Generally that atoms and molecules are the key to understanding physics and I hadn’t appreciated that at school – so I didn’t get very far!
  • That global warming is real, actually happening.
  • Electricity is everywhere.
  • How mobile phone signals are transmitted through base stations.
  • I now know what makes up an atom.
  • About how a nuclear power station works.
  • There are atoms everywhere.
  • E-L-E-C-T-R-I-C-I-T-Y.
  • Everything is made up of atoms and electrical fields.
  • That absolutely EVERYTHING is electrical. (and more, but it said ONE thing).
  • I have learned more about how atoms work.
  • How paper is picked up by a balloon.
  • How small we are in the universe. Greater understanding of atoms and various other things.
  • An appreciation of the complexity behind simple things I take for granted.
  • I have learnt that atoms are all around us!
  • Magnetic properties as atoms! Best explanation ever! And I have a 1st class honours in Physics.
  • What nuclear fusion is.
  • Everything you look at is absolutely full of atoms, moving without us realising it!
  • How my phone works and how complicated it is. That we should try to prevent carbon dioxide from getting into the air to stop global warming.
  • WOW so many things. Particles are the basis of all science. To think about stuff I take for granted with more wonder. Not to always believe science in journalism/media.
  • The electric force is to blame for everything!
  • I have learnt my phone produces microwaves.
  • Everything is a wave! That the ‘gap’ between protons neutrons and electrons is just a gap, but an important gap.
  • Fields are everywhere.
  • Everything is made out of something.
  • I have learnt that electricity is essential to live and it is everywhere.
  • There is electricity in sausages.
  • Better understanding of how waves/atoms/electricity all fit together. Even heard about Brownian motion over the weekend and I knew what they were talking about.

One question you still have…

  • If global warming is an imminent disaster, why is big business in control of energy production for profit? (The less energy we use the move we pay per unit?).
  • Nothing I can think of, the excellent option to write feedback each time has answered it!
  • We can adapt to increase in temperature (grow vineyards in Scotland). Don’t fight it, work with it.
  • How does solar power work without direct sunlight (e.g. clouds in the way)?
  • What’s the problem with nuclear fusion?
  • From week 5, how do we know that phones are what may give us cancer, is it maybe something that people who use phones also do?
  • If so many things are ‘a bit’ radioactive what is the defining feature of ‘bad’ radioactivity? Where do gamma rays fit in?
  • Why do we never see the dark side of the moon?
  • Why is the earth’s centre magnetic? (North/South).
  • Who shot Kennedy?
  • What made you want to run a science course like this?

Is there any message you would like to give to the NPL management team…

  • Thank you for the enjoyable evenings.
  • Thank you!
  • Cheers!
  • Thank you – well run, organised, clean and efficient. Really needed tea and the copious quantity of biscuits that you provided.
  • Yes, double this man’s salary and send him on a tour of Britain giving the rest of the country the choice to enjoy and learn.
  • I wanted to submit a question re: this course. I couldn’t find a contact method. I think I sent a message on a blog-thing. (Not sure!).
  • This course is excellent, if Michael is unable or unwilling to continue is there anyone else who could run it? – Loved the course – beautiful surroundings (buildings) and you have truly spoiled us with all of the tea and biscuits.
  • The NPL is the most amazing place – long may it continue!
  • Well done.
  • It is a great resource. I have enjoyed it tremendously.
  • You’re doing well!
  • Keep up the good work – great fun!
  • Well done – more please!
  • Great computering skills.
  • I would like to thank Michael and the team for all their hard work during this course, thank you very much. Very entertaining and boggling every week. J
  • Thank you very much for improving my scientific knowledge.
  • No.
  • Make a sequel e.g. Electrons for Lunch.
  • Thank you!
  • My daughter is looking forward to coming in the autumn with my husband – I know she/they will really enjoy it.
  • Excellent course and facilities. Great enthusiasm from Michael.
  • Thank you for allowing me to attend such an organised and interesting course.
  • Well done, the course is great.
  • Keep doing Protons for Breakfast.
  • Really good job! The technical issues with the powerpoint seems to be fairly frequent in the 1st half of the course though. But Michael dealt with it really well and the flow was maintained.
  • Very well delivered course at such an affordable price. We home educate our daughter and chemistry and physics are subjects that are really hard for her to do. After the session at NPL she was coming home and wanting to learn more and do the experiments. Thank you.
  • This course is a fantastic way to spark an interest in science for young and old alike. Thank you.
  • This is a really good course and it would be a shame if it stops L
  • Thank you.
  • Well done. Very informative. The questions and Michael’s answers – very good!
  • Thank you JJ
  • Thank J
  • Keep doing this!
  • Wonderful staff and helpers. Excellent refreshments!
  • Please have more open access Science courses – they are very inspiring. You have so much here to show people.
  • Wonderful course. I hope when my youngest grandson is old enough it will still be running.
  • Thank you J!
  • Really well organised course. Very helpful and friendly staff. I would love to attend more like this.
  • Please keep offering this course. The presenters and helpers have made an enormous amount of science interesting and accessible for young and old in the audience.
  • This is a fantastic course for parents, children, teachers – everyone – to learn about the physical world. It was also great to see what passion and creativity there is inside NPL.
  • Very inspiring!
  • It is great that NPL provides this course for the interested non-experts to learn from the experts.
  • Well done.
  • Keep up the good work.
  • Well done for running an excellent course, for a wonderful mixture of people.
  • Well done!
  • Well done. Try to make it a bit more interesting for kids.
  • You just need to carry on what you are doing. It is great fun and people learn a lot.
  • Parking an issue – could you make it easier to get from other half of site to here?
  • Many thanks for a super course.
  • Just a fantastic course – I would recommend it to anybody (and do regularly). Thank you to everybody.
  • Thank you it was great. Really enjoyed the biscuits! Especially when there was Jaffa cakes! (my favourite). I don’t think I’d tried a wagon wheel until now and I LOVE THEM!
  • More resources for understanding what NPL does – website, You-tube etc. Great resource for kids to get interested in Science.
  • Well done!
  • THANK YOU!!!! I love it soooo much.
  • Keep up the fun and fantastic way of getting science to us all. Well done to you all and keep it up.
  • Very impressed with the standard of this course in many ways: teaching skills of presenter; super balance of theory and demo/ very large amount of info communicated/ high standard of visual/demo/experiments/really impressive experts in the last half of the course deployed well.


Children OnlyAside from the biscuits, ice cream and jelly babies, what did you like best?

  • I enjoyed the debates.
  • The experiments – both doing and watching (+ jelly babies and ice cream).
  • Hovercrafts and wands. Live experiments – watching and doing.
  • Hovercraft.
  • I like the exciting demonstrations.
  • Having an advantage in GCSE physics.
  • Learning about nuclear power.
  • The demonstrations that were done.
  • Killing of the egg in the microwave.
  • All of the above.
  • The crazy experiments – egg in microwave, wobbling water in pan, electrocuted gherkin, etc.
  • I loved all the demonstrations and Michael’s enthusiasm!
  • I loved the whole course in general as I felt it has contributed hugely to my confidence and understanding of science in general. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at NPL.
  • I’m not sure, everything is great.
  • All of it! But if I had to choose it would be using the microwave to cook CDs and eggs, that was a lot of fun.
  • The knowledge that I gained.
  • Practical activities.
  • The practical experiments.
  • I like the session covering heat.
  • The experiments!!!
  • Week 2 – light.
  • Watching the demonstrations and experiments, they helped me understand how different chemicals/atoms react.
  • Demonstrations!
  • The demonstrations of the experiments.
  • All the experiments.
  • The exploding egg.
  • Hovercrafts.
  • The egg and the gherkin / everything.
  • The fact I was able to easily broaden my knowledge of science. It had a strong, positive effect on my GCSEs.
  • Learning about mobile phone radiation.
  • The demonstrations.
  • The experiments, more please!
  • Hovercraft and egg.
  • I liked it when the experiment went kind of wrong and the egg exploded.
  • Experiment when ice cream was made.
  • Everything, because science is fun.
  • Environment.
  • The lectures and demonstrations.

Teachers & Trainee Teachers Only Please state one way in which you feel this course has helped you

  • I think it is essential to have a greater knowledge than the children I teach – just in case I get tricky questions, at least I will have the tools for us to find out together. Must download songs!
  • See previous – mainly how to make physics more relatable and easier to understand for the less scientifically minded.
  • Some excellent demonstrations.
  • Mike has a great method of teaching. Lots of passion – however course hasn’t really help, obviously aimed at children.
  • It tackled topics that are relevant to the children, answering questions they normally have in class.
  • Having to teach my daughter subject content I haven’t attended in years is tough. This course helps me have greater understanding and delivery of my daughter’s lessons and questions.
  • To communicate quite complex ideas more simply/better.
  • Experiments to demonstrate particular topics.
  • It explained climate change which I cover as part of Year 5 geography (Science taught by specialist in current school.) Has helped me a lot with some science basics which I was missing before – if I return to primary teaching where I need to teach science I will feel more confident/worthy to do it!



Feynman Diagrams are Maths not Physics

April 13, 2014
A Feynman Diagram such as the one shown above is a succinct way of summarising a mathematical calculation. However, even though it looks like 'cartoon' representation of the physics, it does not describe the physical process.

A Feynman Diagram such as the one shown above is a succinct way of summarising a mathematical calculation. However, even though it looks like a ‘cartoon’ representation of the physics, it does not describe the physical process.

After giving a talk to A level physics teachers the other weekend, I stayed around to listen to a presentation about radioactivity: it really is a pleasure listening to other people teaching!

From my disinterested perch at the back of the class I was surprised to find that the process of beta decay was described by means of a Feynman Diagram.

I was then even more surprised when teachers asked detailed questions about which type of ‘vector boson’ was involved. I began to wonder how this could make any sense to ‘A’ level students. Do they really know what a ‘boson’ is? Or a ‘vector boson’?

And an e-mail today from an AS level student asking me about these diagrams crystallised my misgivings: I realised that teaching and examining this kind of thing as physics is potentially quite misleading.

At the heart of the matter is the fact that Feynman diagrams represent an ingenious way of describing a calculation: they do not describe the physics underlying the process. You can read an excellent article about their history here.

Let me explain:

  • The diagram at the head of the page describes the way that the electrical interaction of two electrons – their mutual repulsion – is calculated in an advanced theory called quantum electrodynamics (QED). The lines and vertices each have a precise mathematical interpretation.
  • QED describes the repulsion between the electrons in terms of the exchange of an infinite number of ‘virtual photons’. The diagram above summarises the way the exchange of a single ‘virtual photon’ – the wiggly line in the middle – is calculated.

Now QED is an astounding theory. It has been checked thoroughly and there is an astonishing correspondence between the results of its calculations and physical reality. In other words it is in some sense ‘correct’.

But nonetheless there are two problems when using these diagrams in schools.

  • Firstly I underlined the word ‘infinite’ in the bullet point above because when you see that word you can be sure you are in the realm of maths, not physics. This is because there are no infinite quantities in physics.
  • The second problem is that it involves the concept of a ‘virtual photon’. Despite 35 years of exposure to this concept – I haven’t a clue what it means physically. I suspect strongly that its role is calculational rather than physical.[I searched for a comprehensible ‘link’ but there are none! Try this as a typical example.]

Some people might argue that because ‘virtual photons’ are part of the way QED works, then the accuracy of QED is in itself evidence that virtual photons ‘exist’. To these people I have a one word rebuttal: ‘Epicycles‘: just because a calculational technique improves predictions does not mean that there is a physical counterpart to the ‘calculational entities’.

Now why does any of this matter?

It matters because this stuff is being taught for all the wrong reasons. It is being taught , I guess, because it looks like  a cool cartoon, and also requires no numerical skills. We are asking students to simply imitate the marks made on blackboards by other physicists.This is bad.

Further, its inclusion has caused the exclusion of a really interesting feature of beta decay that students could appreciate directly.

Instead of electrons being emitted in the same way as alpha particles are – with a single characteristic energy and momentum, electrons emitted in beta decays have a wide range of energies, from a maximum characteristic value, all the way down to zero.

In the early days of nuclear physics this spectrum was puzzling because it seemed as though beta decay did not conserve energy or momentum. ‘A’ level students can readily appreciate both these conservation laws, and the potential significance of them being broken.

And the resolution of the apparent breakdown of the conservation laws was that there was a third particle involved – a particle with almost no mass called a neutrino. And the existence of this particle – not to be directly detected for 25 years after its existence was hypothesised – was based on the law of conservation of momentum.

So these diagrams look like physics, but they are not. And IMHO they don’t belong in an ‘A’ level physics syllabus.


Who is going to die in 2048?

April 9, 2014
Age Standardised UK Mortality

Graph showing Age-Standardised UK Mortality per 100,000 of population per year. In 2010 mortality was around 1100 per 100,000, so for the UK population of 60 million we would expect around 660,000 deaths per year. However if the trend continues, no one will die in 2048!

While investigating causes of death in the United Kingdom, I came across the data above. The graph shows that the age-standardised mortality in the UK has been falling since at least 1980 – and shows no signs of stopping.

Indeed, if the trend continues, then sometime around the 14th March 2048, mortality will reach zero and no one will die in the UK!

Now of course, although this data is real and correct, the trend can’t possibly continue indefinitely. But the data is nonetheless fascinating for at least three reasons.

Firstly, in the face of seemingly endless stories telling us all how unhealthy we are – it seems that the trend to lower mortality is continuing unabated, despite the obesity ‘crisis’.

Secondly, although the linear trend in the data is striking, we have no justification for extrapolating the trend into the future. Why? Because its the future! And we don’t know what is going to happen in the future.

And finally, these numbers give us a scale for considering the relative seriousness of different causes of death: that was the reason I looked up the data in the first place.

I read that air pollution causes 30,000 deaths a year in the UK and that seemed a surprisingly large number. From the graph we can estimate that mortality in 2014 is approximately 1000 deaths per 100,000 of population per annum. So that that for the UK population of 60 million, this is about 5% of deaths – which still seems shockingly high, but is a smidgeon closer to believability.

So good news all round: especially if you, like me, are a man. The mortality of men and women is shown separately below.

If the trend continues, then after millennia of ‘excess male mortality’, the mortality of men should fall below that of women in approximately 2027 and reach zero in 2042 – before the women – who will not attain immortality until 2060!

Age Standardised UK Mortality by sex

Graph showing Age-Standardised UK Mortality per 100,000 of population per year for men and women. If trends continue, male mortality will fall below female mortality in 2027 and no men will die at all after 2042!


Dave asked: Are you sure age standardised mortality means what you think it does? Age standardised mortality might drop to zero. But that is not mortality. If the plot showed mortality that would suggest life expectancy has doubled since 1980, from 50 to nearly 100.

And I replied: The calculation is this:

  • How many people died in a particular year aged (say) 69.
  • This number is then expressed as a fraction of the actual UK population who were aged 69.
  • This is then expressed as an actual number who would have died in a ‘standard population’ called the European Standard Population.

This procedure allows the relative mortality in different countries to be compared

So, if for example, the UK has a high absolute mortality for 69 year-olds, but not many 69 year olds – then this will produce a larger number when ‘age standardised’.

I have obtained one or two sets of actual death data – but I don’t know the equivalent population to divide by to get the absolute mortality per 100,000. However this data shows a similar trend with roughly the same intercept.

What does it mean? I don’t know! I think it means that we are living longer (Is that news?). I was just struck by how straight the line was and how it begged to be extrapolated!

Science Demonstrations: the art of seeing things differently.

April 6, 2014

One of the highlights of the last few weeks was attending the premiere of Demo: The Movie by Alom Shaha and Jonathan Sanderson.

Mingling with the gliterati of the science communication world, the event, the conversations, and the film all helped me to reflect on the purpose of science demonstrations.

To me the purpose of a demonstration is to highlight one aspect of the everyday world, and to allow us to look at it ‘differently’.

This is necessary because for most of us, for most of our lives, the world doesn’t seem mysterious: our world comprises familiar objects that behave in a familiar way.

So famously in 1848 Michael Faraday gave a series of six lectures about an object which must have been extremely familiar to his audience: a candle. And this ground-breaking lecture series is the starting point for Demo:The Movie.

From this point Alom, a teacher, travels from his classroom to San Francisco via the western deserts of the USA performing demonstrations and reflecting on the their role in teaching as he travels.

He concludes that performing a successful science demonstration is an art which incorporates elements of stage magic, understanding of teaching aims and objects, and that most difficult to pronounce word, pedagogy.

For me the most important point made in the film is the profound (and paradoxical) point that demonstrations are different from videos of demonstrations.

This point is made by showing a plastic bottle (which you previously saw Alom fill with air at the top of a mountain) has been crushed when he reaches Death Valley, exactly as viewers probably expected.

But Alom points out that seeing this on video, you have no idea whether this is the same bottle you saw filled earlier. Indeed, you have no idea whether that it was even ‘earlier’.

It is the power of seeing things for yourself which is personally challenging. In terms of my own favourite demonstration, anyone who has ever seen a sausage attracted to a balloon is in some way personally challenged to ask themselves’ What is going on?’.

I can strongly recommend this 30 minute epic to anyone who engages in science communication in any form, but most especially to teachers who might feel inclined to simply show a class a video of something happening instead of performing the demonstration themselves.

And if you want help on performing demonstrations and tips on ‘getting it right’ Jonathan and Alom have created a website which has many videos showing you how not to use videos in class!

Finally, if you love the movie as much as I do, you can check out the bloopers movie/trailer below.




April 5, 2014

The inimitable Tom Glazer and Dottie Evans sing about electricity

What with finishing the 19th presentation of Protons for Breakfast, and giving three weekend training sessions to teachers, I have found myself over the last few weeks with no time to think. And no time to think means no time to blog. 😦

But now, with the course over and arrival of the lighter evenings I feel freed to think again – and write!

This presentation of Protons for Breakfast was the busiest yet, and I am grateful to my colleague Dale Partridge for evidence that our work is finally leaking into mainstream consciousness.

One of our main aims is to change people’s appreciation of electricity. And indeed we aim to change not just how they think about electricity, but how they pronounce it.

As anyone who has attended the course knows, electricity is pronounced: eeeeeee-lec- tricity, a bit like this:

And it surely can’t be a coincidence that the latest hit by the The Pierces adopts a distinctly similar pronunciation.

Admittedly, the pronunciation by The Pierces lacks the bright, upbeat tone of Tom Glazer, but it is not bad for youngsters.

[UPDATE: My colleague Roberto Gavioso brought this interesting pronunciation by Captain Beefheart  from the 1960s to my attention

It is a little darker than the Pierces, but is clearly influenced by Glazer’s seminal work. The fact that it was not a hit at the time is surely because Protons for Breakfast had not yet influenced the zeitgeist. END OF UPDATE]

Now I am just going to flip back through my notes for the last 6 weeks and remind myself of all the topics I meant to write about.

Happy Listening. The Pierces song is below but the important part is about 1 minute and 10 seconds in. I haven’t listened to the song all the way through, but it doesn’t appear to be about physics at all!


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