This week's UK news: 18 January 2013
18 January 2013

Physics applications rise because of TV scientist

Manchester University has raised its entrance requirements to study physics to the highest in the UK. It now asks for two A* and one A.

The university's course has always been popular. But the rise in applications is partly because a physics professor who presents popular TV programmes teaches courses to first year students. Professor Brian Cox played with a pop group called D-Ream in the 1990s as he studied, and has become well-known for programmes about the universe.   

The University says Professor Cox is one reason for rising applications. It says that other factors making it more popular include two Nobel Prizes which were won by its department's academics in 2010 and its Jodrell Bank observatory.

Shakespeare improves the brain

Academics at Liverpool university have found that reading difficult literature is good for developing people's brains. A session reading Shakespeare or other classical literature is better than "self help" books.

The researchers scanned the brains of volunteers as they read original texts by classical authors. They also gave the volunteers the same extracts from poems and plays, but rewritten in more modern language. They found that areas of the brain "lit up" when the volunteers read unusual words and sentences, and this encouraged more reading. Poetry particularly increased activity in part of the brain which stores personal memories. This suggests that it stimulates readers to think about their own experiences in the light of what they have just read.

Professor Philip Davis said this showed literature could shift mental pathways and create new thoughts.

Bad news for UK shops continues

Three well known store chains have announced that they will close unless they find a buyer. Camera shop Jessops, DVD hire shop Blockbusters, and the HMV music chain have run into financial problems because they are not doing enough business. All three have been affected by new technology and the internet.

Many people are worried that if HMV closes there will be few places to buy a wide range of music except on the Internet. It is possible that some shops will stay open. People are also worried that the UK's shopping streets are doing very badly and that things will get worse.

Snow hits UK

Our weather is very changeable and winters have mostly been quite mild for the last two or three decades. So if the UK gets snow for a few days, it often causes bigger problems than it does in countries which expect to get a lot of it every winter.

This week the first snow of winter arrived along with very cold weather, and this worsened on Friday when the official weather service warned people not to travel unless it was necessary across much of England and Wales. Several inches of snow has fallen and more than a thousand schools have been closed in Wales, and hundreds in England and adults and children enjoyed sledging and building snowmen. Train companies changed their timetables and in some places supermarkets sold out of bread, milk and vegetables.


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