Winning formula

April 12, 2012




I recently found myself chatting to Mike Duff, a string theorist at Imperial College London, at a physics dinner. As you might expect, Duff was concerned about the introduction of impact statements into the funding process. This certainly presents a challenge to the string theory community, which occupies the less applied end of the physics spectrum. I didn't have any helpful advice for him and our conversation moved on to happier topics.

Duff had recently been asked to give some expert advice on the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics to Michael Longhurst, the director of Nick Payne's Constellations at the Royal Court - a play about love in the quantum multiverse. He got a credit in the programme for his troubles and an invite to the production, which he enjoyed.

He went on to tell me that a formula from one of his papers had appeared in an episode of The Big Bang Theory, a very sweet sitcom (airing on Channel 4) about a group of four Caltech postdoc physicists (all male) who share an apartment. One of the main characters, Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons), is arrogant, self-serving, obsessive-compulsive with no social skills (he bears absolutely no resemblance to anyone you might come across in a university physics department). And yet he is strangely vulnerable and over time endears himself to the viewer, so much so that in the US, each episode attracts 16 million of them.

The work of Duff et al has well and truly entered our cultural life. That is impact, is it not?

Philip Diamond, Associate director, education and planning, Institute of Physics

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

celebrate, cheer, tef results

Emilie Murphy calls on those who challenged the teaching excellence framework methodology in the past to stop sharing their university ratings with pride

Reflection of man in cracked mirror

To defend the values of reason from political attack we need to be more discriminating about the claims made in its name, says John Hendry

But the highest value UK spin-off companies mainly come from research-intensive universities, latest figures show