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Did the Higgs Boson boost undergraduate physics enrollment?

  1. Sep 7, 2013 #1
    I am writing about some crazy hypothesis I have about the impact the quest for the Higgs Boson, thereafter designated as HB, might have had on the number of people who declared physics majors during the years following its discovery. The preliminary data I have concerns two universities in my home country indicate that new enrolees in physics undergraduate programs (I do not expect the HB to have any effect on graduate enrollment because enrollment in graduate physics programs depends more on professors' research grants) have increased in the HB era, when compared to the pre-HB era. Here are the (admittedly fragmentary) data sets for the two schools for which I have some data:

    Laval University:

    Entering fall 2011 class size (last entering class of the pre-HB era): 22
    Entering fall 2012 class size (first entering class of the HB era): 25
    Entering fall 2013 class size: 34

    University of Montreal (all physics streams):

    Entering fall 2011 class size: 91
    Entering fall 2012 class size: 162
    Entering fall 2013 class size: 134

    Because of the fragmentary data, I cannot draw conclusions with any degree of confidence. However, I do not expect the HB-era classes to experience more or less attrition than in the pre-HB era, because the Higgs Boson has little, if any, effect on what drives attrition away from physics. So do any of you guys have information about physics undergraduate enrollments for each academic year at any school for which you have data, during, say, the last 3-5 years?

    If the quest for the Higgs Boson had any real effect on how many people declared physics majors, I expect it to act as follows on a student: the student realizes, through the media coverage of the Higgs Boson, that physics might become a viable educational path, and that the student gains an interest in that field as a result, finally resulting in that student enrolling in a physics degree program as an undergraduate, be it on the application or while enrolled, depending on the university. Because the media coverage of the quest for the Higgs Boson was worldwide, I would personally expect schools outside Quebec to have experienced an increase in physics undergraduate enrollments as well.

    What do you think?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 7, 2013 #2


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    You only have 3 years of data, that's not nearly enough. I think you'll need many more years, maybe 20, to see if that spike is statistically significant. It could be just noise. Plus you only have [STRIKE]one university[/STRIKE] two universites in your data - you need a lot more.

    And if you go back even further in time, 30 or 50 years, it would be interesting if you can peg spikes in physics enrollment to big newsworthy events (lunar landing, various discoveries of quarks, or more recently - that cow tipping is unlikely).

    Edit: Btw I really think the center of gravity on that cow diagram in the article is way, way too low, even after assuming a cow of uniform density.
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2013
  4. Sep 8, 2013 #3
    Enrollment in most sciences is less every year here, and I have not met a physics major yet. My experience is possibly not comparable since I go to a community college instead of a university.
  5. Sep 8, 2013 #4
  6. Sep 8, 2013 #5


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    It could have had the reverse effect
    - student wants to go into physics and make the big discovery of finding the Higgs Boson and become famous. Unfortunately, the student upon hearing that the HB has been reported as being discovered, becomes dissolusioned as they are all making discoveries and when he graduates there will be nothing for him to do. So he enrolls to become an accountant instead where all the money is.
  7. Sep 8, 2013 #6


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    Hmm Looks to be in the wrong place for the cg of a Holstein milk cow which has a high centre of gravity.
    A beef cow, such as a Hereford, on the other hand ...
  8. Sep 8, 2013 #7


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    In the article it says they assume the cow is a rectangular block of beef so I think it's going to place the center of gravity too low in general
  9. Sep 8, 2013 #8
    Which of the two effects is the stronger?

    The reverse effect that you speak of is more likely to occur in students that had a previous interest in physics.
  10. Sep 8, 2013 #9


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    I don't know. Maybe dissolusioned accounting students enroll in physics.
  11. Sep 8, 2013 #10
    Do you have any data for the total number of students in all programs . I would not be surprised to see the same increase in all undergraduate programs for the last 10 years.
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