Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) wants to use the opportunity provided by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) project at CERN to engage the public with particle physics. It is developing a four-year program with the twin aims of increasing public knowledge of, and support for, particle physics and inspiring young people to choose physics courses at 16 and subsequent decision points. PPARC commissioned PSP to conduct a formative evaluation with their key audiences: the general public; and students and their teachers.
The project comprised:
- a review of existing UK research on the general public’s knowledge of, and interest in, particle physics;
- eight focus groups with members of the general public who were interested in science;
- seventeen in-depth interviews (13 paired and 4 single) with a total of 30 science teachers; and
- four focus groups with young people aged 14-18.
The findings illustrate that the overarching topics of interest to members of the public who are interested in science are the Big Bang and the origins of the universe. All types of media were mentioned as channels of communication that could be used to promote the LHC project, but there was a particular emphasis on the power of television.
With regard to teachers and students, particle physics is largely an A-level subject. Therefore, curriculum support would be best targeted at this level. There are a number of key factors that will get teaching materials noticed and used, these are: peer recommendation; trusted supplier; fitness for purpose/relevance; ease of use; access; format; and cost. In the wider school context, there is potential for the LHC to support teaching on ‘how science works’ and to inspire a wider age range of students as part of their school learning experience. Discussions with the students emphasized that the LHC is likely to be most effective if used to engage students within the context of school.
On the basis of these conclusions, a number of recommendations were made; these can be found in both the summary report and the full report.
For the full report see the PPARC website http://www.pparc.ac.uk/Ed/LHC.asp