School of Physics & Astronomy

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


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.” 

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:

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

Posted on Friday 8th July 2016

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