News Release

Physicists consider their own carbon footprint

Peer-Reviewed Publication

IOP Publishing

In October's issue of Physics World, Phil Marshall, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford, calls on physicists to pull their weight when it comes to climate change, drawing on his own research showing that astronomers average 23,000 air miles per year flying to observatories, conferences and meetings, and use 130 KWh more energy per day than the average US citizen.

Marshall says that physicists must not only act as "trusted voices" in climate-change debates, but also do all they can to reduce their own carbon footprints.

This must involve a change of behaviour at the individual level – say by skipping an overseas scientific meeting and taking part via video conference call instead – and as an entire community, particularly by carefully planning future experiments to try and make them as "carbon-neutral" as possible.

"Individual physicists can help to solve the energy problem, and not just the ones whose research is in new technologies; we can all contribute by setting the right example," writes Marshall.

It is an urgent problem for physics as many current "big-science" facilities – from huge particle accelerators to massive ground-based telescopes – have a frightening energy demand, Marshall notes. CERN's Large Hadron Collider, for example, has an energy bill as big as that of all the households in the region around Geneva, estimated to be around €10m.

Marshall's comments are timely as researchers are set to meet up in mid-October to identify ways to do large-scale physics research with a reliable, affordable and sustainable energy supply that is carbon-neutral.

The venue of this workshop – Lund, in Sweden – is an appropriate location for the meeting as the city will also play host to the first ever carbon-neutral, big-science facility – the €1.48bn European Spallation Source (ESS) – which is set to come online towards the end of the decade. All of the ESS's electricity will come from renewable sources and more than half the heat it generates will be fed back into the system.

Carbon reduction is, of course, not the only challenge facing those designing massively complex scientific facilities like the ESS. As explained in the first ever Physics World big-science supplement, which accompanies the October issue of the magazine, these challenges are many and varied – ranging from the financial and technical to the political and scientific.

Also in this month's issue:

  • Relativity's new revolution -- how computer simulations are pointing to rogue black holes that could be cannonballing through the universe

  • Making sense of common sense -- Duncan Watts from Yahoo! Research explains how physicists are muscling in on sociology


Please mention Physics World as the source of these items and, if publishing online, please include a hyperlink to:

Notes for editors:

1. Physics World is the international monthly magazine published by the Institute of Physics. For further information or details of its editorial programme, please contact the editor, Dr Matin Durrani, on tel +44 (0)117 930 1002. The magazine's website is updated regularly and contains physics news, views and resources. Visit

2. For copies of Physics World and copies of the articles reviewed here contact Michael Bishop, IOP press assistant, tel +44 (0)117 930 1032, e-mail

3. The Institute of Physics is a leading scientific society promoting physics and bringing physicists together for the benefit of all.

It has a worldwide membership of around 40 000 comprising physicists from all sectors, as well as those with an interest in physics. It works to advance physics research, application and education; and engages with policymakers and the public to develop awareness and understanding of physics. Its publishing company, IOP Publishing, is a world leader in professional scientific communications. Go to

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