2016 Kelvin Medal and prize of the Institute of Physics

Brady Haran, Professor Michael Merrifield and Professor Philip Moriarty, University of Nottingham, for innovative and effective promotion of the public understanding of physics through the Sixty Symbols video project.

Picture of Haran, Merrifield and Moriarty

Sixty Symbols is a collaboration between video journalist Brady Haran and a group of academics, of whom two leading members are Michael Merrifield and Philip Moriarty. The initial goal of the project was to create a series of informal but authoritative videos themed around 60 physics symbols. For example, a video discussing time dilation was built around the Lorentz factor, γ, while α introduced the fine structure constant. The success of the project means that the channel has now well surpassed the initial 60 symbols, and largely out-grown the need to build each video around a symbol.

Since the project began in 2009, more than 290 videos have been produced, which have collectively garnered in excess of 54 million views – by far the most of any physics channel in the UK and among the largest number worldwide. Sixty Symbols’ YouTube channel has more than 570,000 individual subscribers who view new videos and engage in discussion, and the channel is also regularly used in school classrooms around the world. Feedback from viewers makes it clear that these videos inspire all age groups, with some amazing stories of their life-changing impact.

The success of the project is due to Haran’s skill as a filmmaker and his unerring ability to judge what works well on video, in combination with the commitment of academics like Merrifield and Moriarty, who have played a critical role in shaping the project and provided accessible and engaging explanations of many physics concepts.

Several other video projects have developed from Sixty Symbols, including the STFC-commissioned Backstage Science channel and the Google-funded Deep Sky Videos. The project continues to develop, most recently with funding obtained from the Ogden Trust for a post-doctoral Sixty Symbols Fellow to give the viewers insight into the early career of a research scientist.