‘The Brian Cox effect’ rejuvenates physics in Britain

Professor Brian Cox promotes physics in popular culture. His ‘Wonders of…’ series is one of BBC2’s most watched programmes with millions of viewers; sales of his popular science books exceed 1.3 million copies. The ‘Brian Cox effect’ has also increased university physics applications by 52%.

Physics is often considered to be a difficult subject, the preserve of nerds and boffins. But particle physicist Professor Brian Cox has changed this public perception of physics in Britain.


Following an interview for a BBC Horizon programme, the BBC asked Professor Cox to present the BBC4 show ‘The Big Bang Machine’, which has now been repeated three times to a total audience of 1.23 million.

Stargazing Live at Jodrell Bank

The success of the show led to three further Horizon programmes followed by the mini-series ‘Wonders of the Solar System’. The ‘Wonders of…’ series consistently attracted 3-4 million viewers to become one of BBC2’s most watched programmes. It scooped a Peabody award and was named best documentary series at the Broadcasting Press Guild Awards – where Professor Cox was also awarded best performer in a non-acting role. He also won Best Presenter at the Royal Television Society Awards.

The three ‘Wonders of…’ series have sold some 165,000 DVDs.

The impact of these programmes on the broadcasting media (and the BBC in particular) is clear from repeat showings, re-commissioning and associated invitations for Cox to appear on other shows, including several appearances on The Jonathan Ross Show, The One Show, The Sky at Night, QI, Blue Peter, BBC Radio 5 Live and The Today Programme.

Professor Cox co-hosts the annual ‘Stargazing Live’ broadcast which inspires the public to stargaze at home and highlights the astronomy research taking place at The University of Manchester (among others) and the Jodrell Bank Observatory.


Professor Cox makes regular guest appearances on radio stations and co-hosts the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage’. The programme, now in its eighth series, won a Gold Sony Radio Award in 2011.


The Wonders of Universe published as a book and a DVD

As an author, Professor Cox has published three books on the ‘Wonders of…’ series (600,000 book sales, 303,000 e-books). His two best-selling popular science books (co-authored with Professor Jeff Forshaw) have sold more than 434,000 copies and been translated into several languages.

The ‘Brian Cox effect’

Professor Cox has become a household name and pushed physics into popular culture. GC Magazine ranked him as the 11th most influential British man. The number of people taking A-Level physics has increased by 20% and UCAS reported that applications to university physics courses increase by 52% in 2012 compared to 2008.

Key facts and figures:


The first episode of Wonders of the Universe was watched by 3.9 million people.


There has been a 52% increase in applications of university physics courses since 2008.


Professor Cox’s success in the media is underpinned by his success as a research scientist. His academic standing helps to make him an authoritative voice and his specific expertise in particle physics regularly informs his media work.

His scientific publications include papers on quantum chromodynamics at high energies and novel techniques to identify hadronically decaying W – a new idea that has since developed into a whole sub-field of ‘boosted particle’ studies, now employed in Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiments.  Professor Cox also led the “FP420” project which made the case for installing low-angle proton detectors at CERN.

The popular rejuvenation of physics has also been helped by the exciting science being carried out at CERN's Large Hadron Collider, including the discovery of the Higgs boson. Manchester physicists have been heavily involved in developing the ATLAS detector and its High Level Trigger system. 

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