News Release

Can you tell the difference between Quarks and DNA?

Survey reveals British public don't know the difference between quarks and DNA – do you

Peer-Reviewed Publication

IOP Publishing

A survey commissioned by the Institute of Physics (IoP) has found that a staggering 98 percent of UK adults don't know what the world around us is made of. Just under two percent of those asked gave the right answer, quarks, the basic building blocks of all matter in the universe. The survey asked over 500 people what makes up the nucleus of an atom, and reveals a surprising lack of knowledge of nuclear physics which generates almost 25% of the UK's electricity supply, and provides the isotopes used in over 27,000 medical procedures every day.

Next week (Monday 5th April) nuclear physicists will gather in Edinburgh to discuss the latest advances in our understanding of these fundamental particles. The IoP Nuclear Physics Conference will examine the latest research into the nuclei of atoms – what they are made up of, how they hold together, where and how they are made in stars, and how this knowledge can be used in applications that directly benefit mankind.

Dr Jim Al-Khalili, from the University of Surrey and a speaker at the conference, said: "Studying the nuclei of atoms will unlock some of the deepest secrets of the universe, helping us to understand how all the matter we see around us was created, how the universe evolved and how it will ultimately end. Just as importantly, the applications of this sort of research in nuclear medicine is at work in hospitals every day saving lives and its applications are a vital aspect of building safe, sustainable energy resources for the future."

Highlights from the conference programme:

    WIMPS in Yorkshire? Boulby salt mine key in search for dark matter
    The Exotic Nuclei Factory
    How many quarks in an atom? Discovery of pentaquark turns existing theory on its head
    Death by quantum tunnelling?
    Liverpool team to boost ability of hospital positron emission tomography (PET) scanners
    Making nuclear power safe through alchemy: the transmutation of nuclear waste products
    Making the heaviest elements in the world

Nobel prize-winner Professor Carlo Rubbia (ENEA, Italy) will give a keynote lecture on Liquid Argon Technology, a cutting-edge new detector with the potential to revolutionise research in fields as diverse as astrophysics, nuclear physics, rare particles such as neutrinos and WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles) as well as proton decays.

Other invited lectures on cutting-edge research will take place throughout the three day conference include: M. Birse (Manchester), Chiral symmetry and nuclear forces; P. Campbell Manchester), Optical spectroscopy beyond the ground state; H. Geissel (GSI, Germany), Precision measurements with exotic atoms and nuclei at the FRS and perspectives with the new Super-FRS facility; J. Nelson (Birmingham), New results from RHIC and STAR experiments; C. Rolfs (Bochum, Germany), Metals, the plasma of the poor man?; A. Shotter (TRIUMF, Canada), title to be announced, and D. Watts (Glasgow/Edinburgh), Three-body forces in nuclear reactions.


Notes to editors:

Diary: The Institute of Physics Nuclear Physics Conference will take place at the University of Edinburgh from Monday 5th April to Wednesday 7th April 2004.

Press Accreditation: Journalists are welcome to attend the conference free of charge. Please call the press office for accreditation. Interviews can be arranged for Monday 5th April or in advance. For further information please contact: David Reid, Press Officer, Tel: 44-207-470-4815 or 44-773-425-6729 (during the conference), E-mail:

Full results of the survey, carried out by NEMS Market Research, are available broken down by demography and gender. Overview of sample results:
Question: The world is made of atoms; what is the nucleus of an atom made of?

Total Male Female
Electrons 31.3% 158 36.1% 89 26.7% 69
Photons 10.2% 51 11.4% 28 9.1% 23
DNA 1.2% 6 1.5% 4 0.9% 2
Quarks 1.6% 8 2.4% 6 0.9% 2
Neutrinos 9.1% 46 12.3% 30 6.0% 15
(Don't know) 46.6% 235 36.3% 90 56.5% 145
Weighted base: 504 247 257
Sample: 504 232 272

The Institute of Physics is a leading international professional body and learned society with over 37,000 members, which promotes the advancement and dissemination of a knowledge of and education in the science of physics, pure and applied. It has a world-wide membership and is a major international player in: - scientific publishing and electronic dissemination of physics; - setting professional standards for physicists and awarding professional qualifications; - promoting physics through scientific conferences, education and science policy advice. The Institute is a member of the Science Council, and a nominated body of the Engineering Council. The Institute works in collaboration with national physical societies and plays an important role in transnational societies such as the European Physical Society and represents British and Irish physicists in international organisations. In Great Britain and Ireland the Institute is active in providing support for physicists in all professions and careers, encouraging physics research and its applications, providing support for physics in schools, colleges and universities, influencing government and informing public debate.

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