Can TV inspire a love of science?
They may be fiction, but television shows like 'The Big Bang Theory,' 'CSI' and 'Star Trek' have all been linked to the real-life pursuit of science careers.
Wed, Jun 04, 2014 at 01:26 PM
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS/Getty Images
In 2012, the number of physics degrees earned in the U.S. reached an all-time high, according to the American Institute of Physics.
The previous year, the Institute of Physics reported an increase for the fifth consecutive year in the number of British students studying A-level physics (the equivalent of Advanced Placement courses in the U.S.).
What's behind the sudden interest in this branch of science?
Some people think the credit belongs to fictional physicists Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter from CBS' hit sitcom "The Big Bang Theory," which debuted in the United States in 2007.
According to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, there was a 10 percent increase in the number of students accepted to study physics in 2008, the year the show was first broadcast in the United Kingdom.
By 2010, applications for college-level physics courses were up more than 17 percent over 2009.
"There's no doubt that TV has played a role," Alex Cheung, editor of physics.org, told The Guardian. "'The Big Bang Theory' seems to have had a positive effect."
This isn't the first time a popular TV show has influenced the educational pursuits of young adults.
Not long after "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" debuted in 2000, many U.S. schools reported an increase in students interested in studying forensics.
By 2004, colleges and universities — including Loyola University, George Washington University and the University of California — had all seen their forensic science programs grow significantly.
"We have seen a strong increase in interest that is due to the popularity of the 'CSI' shows," Dr. William Walkenhorst, Department of Chemistry chair at Loyola University, told U-T San Diego in 2004.
In 2009, a U.K. organization found that the number of undergraduates studying forensic science and crime scene science had more than doubled over a five-year period.
A third of those students attributed their interest to television shows like "CSI" and its spinoffs, all of which focused on using science to solve crimes.
Science fiction show "Star Trek" also inspired its share of young adults, including astrophysicist Candy Torres.
She credits the show for not only her interest in science, but also for showing her, as a Puerto Rican teen, a "type of utopia where all races and genders lived harmoniously on the Enterprise and everybody was valued for their efforts and skills," according to CNN.
Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to fly in space, says the original series inspired her to become an astronaut as well.
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