22 November 2010

Teachers from across the country flock to the Niels Bohr Institute

The Niels Bohr Institute is hosting a big Theme Day, where high school and secondary school teachers can come and hear about the latest research. The theme is: From Big Bang to Life in the Universe, and the interest has been overwhelming. 250 teachers from across the country have chosen to travel from near and far to hear the researchers and get new inspiration for their teaching.

John Renner Hansen John Renner Hansen, Professor, Head of the Niels Bohr Institute


"Never before has the interest in science been so great,” says John Renner Hansen, Professor and Head of the Niels Bohr Institute. He believes that the old conception of physics education being dusty, incomprehensible and only useful if you want to be a high school teacher has been broken for good. He concludes that “The interest from high school and secondary school teachers has been invaluable in this.”

The Theme Day offers lectures on the latest in CERN research, observations of the very first galaxies that were formed right after the Big Bang, exoplanets – that is to say planets outside of our own solar system, the prerequisites for life in the Universe, where the Earth’s water comes from, water and living conditions on Mars, the first life on Earth and the evolution of life. All in all, a cornucopia of exciting topics and excellent researchers, who can provide new inspiration to the everyday teaching in the country’s secondary schools.

The Theme Day is organized in collaboration with the Danish Union of Physics and Chemistry Teachers, Copenhagen and the chairman Erland Andersen says that the interest in the sciences in Denmark is enormous. The high turnout shows that teachers in both high schools, secondary schools and those training to be teachers gladly set aside time and resources to get updated and inspired for their teaching.

Students in the auditoriumImmense growing interest

This year also broke all records in terms of new students. Where previous years have been marked by declining numbers of students, there is now a huge increase. The year before last there were 86 new physics students, last year 110 started to study physics at the Niels Bohr Institute, while this year the number is all the way up to 145 new physics students.

"It’s pretty amazing that there are so many new students and they are really good,” says Ian Bearden, who is an Associate Professor and the Director of Studies for bachelor and master students. He teaches the new students and says: "I am deeply impressed by their energy and engagement and am very happy with the incredibly positive atmosphere they create. The only thing I can get a little sad over is that I don’t have more time to spend with them, as it is so energizing to be right there when they are starting to take on challenges of physics. 

There has also been a large increase in the number of students in the doctoral research programme. Previously, the institute had around 80 doctoral students, but that number reach approximately 120 in the coming years. This is partly due to the government’s requirement to take in more students, but is also very much a result of the success of the research groups in getting money for research projects from both public and private foundations.

"The increased number of doctoral students means the research is increased considerably, so it is very positive for both science and the Niels Bohr Institute,” says Ph.D. coordinator, Professor Robert Feidenhans'l.

Holger Bech with a class of students
The institute is also noticing an increased interest from lower secondary school students to train as physicists and astronomers. The institute offers internships for ninth graders twice a year. The students are put in teams, which over the course of a week get into every crook and cranny and experience the world of physics up close. It has now become so popular that they have had to increase the teams from 20 to 27 students and many already apply when they are in eighth grade just to be sure of getting a place on the coveted teams.

Even Culture Night exploded with around 2,000 visitors, who came to hear lectures and meet the researchers in person and hear the latest findings from the research world.