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Working Scientist podcast: The school physics talk that proved more popular than Lady Gaga's boots

Media interest in particle physics and the Large Hadron Collider boosted Jon Butterworth's interest in public engagement, reports Julie Gould.
Julie Gould is a freelance journalist in London, and produces the Nature Careers Podcast.

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Excited school girls during chemistry experiment

Credit: Steve Debenport/Getty

Physicists Jon Butterworth and Tom Weller talk teaching, science communication and public engagement with Julie Gould.

Jon Butterworth developed a taste for public engagement after repeated media appearances related to his work on the ATLAS experiment, one of two Large Hadron Collider detectors at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics lab.

Butterworth, a physics professor at University College London, describes life at CERN, and how it felt to be one of 5154 authors listed in the 2015 paper that produced the most precise estimate yet of the mass of the Higgs boson.

As part of his public engagement activities, Butterworth was persuaded to auction an after-dinner lecture or school talk about the Higgs. The auction "lot" was part of a fundraising effort for his children's primary school in north London.

"Someone else at the school was Lady Gaga's designer and they brought along a pair of her boots," he tells Julie Gould. "My talk went for more than Lady Gaga's boots. I'm still doing it now. Interest hasn't died away.

"The key thing is you have to be genuinely excited about your project. We've lowered the bar so more physics stories get into the news.

"If you tell your mum and dad now that you're doing physics, you get kudos for it in the way you wouldn't have done before," he says.

Tom Weller taught physics for eight years at a west London school following his second postdoc at Harvard University, a career change triggered in part by the enjoyment he derived from organising children's science parties. "They made me recognize how much I enjoyed explaining stuff that was fun and engaging," he says in the fourth episode of this six-part podcast series about physics careers.

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Transcript

Physicists Jon Butterworth and Tom Weller talk teaching, science communication and public engagement with Julie Gould.

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