Public awareness activities: creating NUCLEUS

Mackintosh, Ray (2005). Public awareness activities: creating NUCLEUS. Nuclear Physics News, 15(2) pp. 42–44.



In the spring of 1998, a meeting was called by Jules Deutsch, Adriaan van der Woude, and Alan Shotter at Louvain la Neuve to discuss what measures might be taken to improve the image of nuclear physics. This was the beginning of PANS, Public Awareness of Nuclear Science. We quickly recognized that there were three distinct groups to educate: the general public, policymakers, and scientists outside the nuclear field. Of the three, I think we were most concerned with educating the general public, for a number of reasons: (i) it is the most challenging task; (ii) the general public in a democracy have real power, especially when it comes to spending taxpayers' money; (iii) the next generation of nuclear physicists, upon which the continuation of our subject depends, are the younger part of the general public; (iv) the problem is deep—many examples were discussed of the irrationality infecting modern life, and the particular fears roused by the very word “nuclear,” as discussed at length in the book Nuclear Fear by Spencer Weart. It was apparent that there were clear national differences concerning the nature of the problem, but a small number of projects were agreed on that could be the subject of collaborations involving nuclear physicists from different countries. One of these projects was a popular book in nuclear physics, and to create this, Bjorn Jonson from Sweden, Teresa Peña from Portugal, and Jim Al-Khalili and myself from the UK formed a team, with me as “driver” (Jules Deutsch's term). In the UK, at least, there has been a real boom in the production of popular scientific books: arguably too many, so that good ones have difficulty being noticed. However, among all the books on space and time, Schrödinger's kittens, the quark explosion, trilobites, and transistors, there was nothing on nuclear physics. What follows is an account of how we set about changing that and how the book NUCLEUS: A Trip to the Heart of Matter came into being.

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