Press release

Viral video helps boost students’ physics knowledge

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

New project helping to raise standards in physics, maths and engineering.

A viral video seen by almost 3 million people is helping boost students’ knowledge of physics as part of a new resource funded by the Department for Education.

Cambridge University Professor Mark Warner is encouraging A level students to solve the physics problems behind the popular BBC science clip - which shows a chain in a jar appearing to defy gravity by leaping up in the air before falling to the floor - as part of the £7 million project.

Self siphoning beads

As well as giving a formal explanation of the physics involved in the ‘chain fountain’ in a science journal, Professor Warner and his colleague Dr John Biggins have published a collection of problems online which require sixth-form students to use their subject knowledge to explain the problem.

The challenge is part of a 5-year project to prepare students better for university courses in physics, maths and engineering, and widen their access to top universities.

The Rutherford Schools Physics Partnership (RSPP) sees Cambridge academics tutor students online or through regionally-run face-to-face classes, and offer support to teachers.

Education Secretary Michael Gove welcomed RSPP’s approach to getting students interested in physics problems.

He said:

Professor Warner’s brilliant project will give state school pupils access to advanced materials so they can develop problem-solving skills in maths and physics. Cambridge University physicists will provide support for science teachers and online resources enabling many more state school students to succeed at university.

Professor Warner said:

This project was only possible with the encouragement and funding that the Department for Education provided. It aims to raise standards and to make academic subjects and places at top universities available to all.

We hope that by showing how the problems studied at school relate to real academic challenges, young people will develop confidence in their ability to solve physics problems and be inspired to continue studying physics to a higher level.

The Department for Education granted the funding to RSPP in May last year.

The full online course is still being designed and eventually students will be able to create their own specific training course, allowing them to have their progress tracked and problems and challenges suggested to them. They will also be notified when new materials and classes are available.

Notes to editors

  1. See further information on the RSPP.
  2. Read about the challenges linked to the chain fountain.
  3. See a video podcast in which Professor Warner and Dr Biggins explain the physics of the chain fountain.
  4. Teachers are invited to join Professor Warner and Rutherford Physics Project colleagues for a free annual residential event which in 2014 will run from 28 to 30 June 2014. To assist with supply cover costs, teachers from state schools may apply for a grant to cover the final Monday of the residential - further information.
  5. For Y12 students there will also be a residential event in Cambridge as part of the project from 29 June to 3 July 2014.

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