Sixty Symbols – Institute of Physics Kelvin Prize for outstanding public engagement

01 Jul 2016 10:06:35.053

PA 159/16

In 2009 a group of physicists at The University of Nottingham, and video journalist Brady Haran, got together to produce a series of informal but authoritative videos around sixty physics symbols. Seven years later the Sixty Symbols YouTube Channel features 290 videos, boasts more than 570,000 subscribers, has had more than 54 million views and is regularly the focus of attention in school classrooms across the world.

No surprise then that Sixty Symbols has been awarded the Kelvin Award from the Institute of Physics (IOP) for outstanding contribution to public engagement. The channel now has a dedicated world-wide following from Iceland to New Zealand and from France to Japan.

Two of the leading academic members of the team are Michael Merrifield, Professor of Astronomy and Philip Moriarty, Professor of Physics. Professor Merrifield said: “Sixty Symbols has been a real team effort; in receiving this award, it is an honour to represent everyone involved. It is also a great pleasure to receive feedback from viewers of all ages saying how much they appreciate our work, and how in some cases the videos have had a life-changing impact.” 

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The success of the project, describing itself as ‘cool videos about physics and astronomy’, means that the channel has now well surpassed the initial sixty symbols, and has largely out-grown the need to build each video around a symbol.  

Brady said: “Working on Sixty Symbols is so much fun for everyone involved and we’re grateful that so many people have watched and supported the project. To win an award like this, named after someone like the eminent physicist Lord Kelvin, is a real honour and we’re very thankful to the Institute of Physics."

Professor Moriarty said: “The success of the project is due to Brady’s skill as a filmmaker and his unerring ability to judge what works well on video, in combination with the commitment of academics who have played a critical role in shaping the project and provided accessible and engaging explanations of many physics concepts.”

President of the IOP, Professor Roy Sambles, said: “The IOP Awards recognise outstanding individuals and teams within our physics community, not only to celebrate their creativity, hard work and dedication but also to inspire others to strive to achieve excellence in what they do. The recipients represent some of the best and brightest minds involved with physics in academic and industrial research, in education and in outreach. These awards recognise their outstanding contribution to the development of their own fields of interest and also their ongoing commitment to strengthening the reputation of UK physics as a whole. To all who have received an award this year I proffer my warmest congratulations.” 

The IOP has been recognising exceptional physicists through their medals and awards since 1914. 

Here are a couple of links if you want to watch a couple of their latest videos:

You can listen to Professor Merrifield discussing Lagrangian points, orbits and gravity.

Or Professor Moriarty explaining why glass is transparent.

Here's a roll call of videos selected by the team themselves:

Clare Burrage, Royal Society University Research Fellow, talks about shining light through walls.

Dr Tony Padilla, Royal Society University Research Fellow, asks whether the Large Hadron Collider will destroy the world?

Professor Peter Krüger admits it’s been a while since he was involved in a Sixty Symbols video but here’s the one he enjoyed the most -  waiting for the  Nobel Prize in 2012 to be announced.

Richard Hill – who feels a very ‘small fish’ in the Sixty Symbols pool did enjoy his contribution about the serious science of magnetic susceptibility with a video on beer levitation in the early days of Sixty Symbols.

Amanda Bauer – who is now a research astronomer at the Australian Astronomical Observatory remembers her favourite time working with Brady producing the Chinese solar eclipse video.

Dr Meghan Gray’s personal favourite is the dark matter (and a chocolate pie) video.

Professor Ed Copeland sent a selection of three but we couldn’t resist this look Inside the Large Hadron Collider. Ed says this was just great fun and showed the excitement some of us feel about science.

Emeritus Professor Roger Bowley has done about sixty videos with  Brady Haran for Sixty Symbols. His favourites are The spinning totem - a floating top over a magnet.

And we have to mention his car key experiment which has had over 1,3000,000 hits.

Finally, here’s one from the whole team on the question of do you believe in god?

— Ends —

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with a “distinct” approach to internationalisation, which rests on those full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia, as well as a large presence in its home city.’ (Times Good University Guide 2016). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide. It is ranked in the world’s top 75 by the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, and 8th in the UK for research power according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. It has been voted the world’s greenest campus for four years running, according to Greenmetrics Ranking of World Universities.

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Story credits

More information is available from Professor Michael Merrifield in the School of Physics and Astronomy at The University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 951 5186,; or Professor Philip Moriarty in the School of Physics and Astronomy at The University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 951 5156,;Lindsay Brooke, Media Relations Manager in the Press Office at The University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 951 5751,
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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