Beyond the Brian Cox effect

Extravagant claims about one person’s influence on Physics recruitment.

The Telegraph comments on the ‘Brian Cox effect’ and suggests that it has resulted in a surge in demand for physics:

A typical Physics academic

A typical Physics academic

Manchester has always been a popular choice for physics but the university admitted that a recent rise in applications had been partially driven by the attraction of Prof Cox, one of the department’s academics and presenter of television series such as Stargazing Live and Wonders of the Universe.

He currently teaches quantum mechanics and relativity to first year students.

It also reflects the increasing popularity of the subject nationally on the back of publicity surrounding the Large Hadron Collider at Cern.

Across Britain, the number of students taking degrees in physics has soared by 50 per cent in just eight years to reach more than 40,000 in 2011.

Of course such an impact does take time – it starts with the GCSE and then A level choices made at school before we even get to the university application stage. So whilst the latest surge in applications to Manchester and for Physics more broadly may well be attributable at least in part to Professor Cox, it is not the whole picture.

Here at the University of Nottingham we have witnessed a similar phenomenon.

Professor Martyn Poliakoff is a leading figure in the Periodic videos project and has arguably had a similar impact on Chemistry. See this recent video, which has been viewed over 2m times, for example:


So it’s not just about the Brian Cox effect. It’s also the Martyn Poliakoff phenomenon.


Shanghai Jiao Tong World League Table: Subject Rankings 2010

SJTU Subject Rankings 2010

In addition to its overall rankings and Field rankings, SJTU has also developed subject rankings in a small number of disciplines:

    Computer Science
    Economics and Business

Some UK universities which don’t appear in the global Top 100 do rather well in here. For example:

  • Durham and Liverpool are in the Top 100 for Physics
  • Bath, Newcastle, Southampton and Sussex all appear in the Chemistry ranking
  • LSE, London Business School and Warwick all feature in the Economics and Business table