Breaking down stereotypes in physics

The Brief

Physics is traditionally seen as a difficult subject, studied by ‘boffin’ types. It is also regarded by many as mainly the domain of the white male – a view backed up by statistics.

As a result of this and other factors, the physics community does not reflect society – meaning the physics world misses out on exceptional talent. To help tackle this problem, the Institute of Physics brought on Barley to promote Limit Less – IOP’s campaign to support young people to change the world and fulfil their potential by doing physics after age 16. The specific groups who miss out on physics were identified as:

  • Girls
  • Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • Young people of Black Caribbean descent
  • Disabled young people
  • LGBT+ young people

Barley needed to create a campaign to get these underrepresented students to think of physics as a subject that could be for them.

Insights and Approach

The perception that physics is only ever complex is a myth that IOP wanted to shut down, and to show that it can indeed be creative, collaborative, practical and fun. After interviews with a range of IOP members as well as focus groups with students, we proposed launching a competition – The Eurekas – for students aged 11-16 to take up the challenge to answer the question: what’s the point of physics?

We ascertained that cash and voucher prizes would help incentivise students, their teachers and parents/carers to take the competition seriously. We also identified that these groups of students felt more comfortable with other subjects: art, sports, design, humanities or languages, for instance, so we ensured that submissions could take any form. Videos, performances, songs, poems, pieces of art, and even baking were encouraged.

We used insights from our immersion phase to:

  • Launch an integrated campaign that saw us create The Eurekas sub-brand and build a standalone website.
  • Bring on science communicator Shivani Dave to represent the competition as an approachable and motivating ambassador
  • Use amplifier audiences to spread the message of the competition (teachers, parents and carers) as targeting those under 16 was not possible
  • Set up paid and organic social media campaigns
  • Send out newsletters via IOP’s database
  • Engage national and local media.

A judging panel was selected, featuring Shivani Dave, writer and physicist Femi Fadugba, and Deputy Chief Executive of IOP, Rachel Yungman.

The Outcome

Submissions saw students from across the UK and Ireland engage with physics in all sorts of unexpected ways – and as the pilot competition, Barley and IOP were delighted to receive over 100 submissions, from almost 200 students across the UK; with the majority of shortlisted entrants being part of the underrepresented groups initially identified.

The creativity of the entrants and their grasp of physics were astounding, and made a significant impact on the students involved. Two of the winning students spoke about how The Eurekas changed their view of physics.

“I wasn’t a big fan of physics…but after taking part in this competition, I realise now that physics is creative.”

“…science isn’t my strong point, but after researching this project, it’s definitely more interesting and something I would do going further.”

You can find out more about The Eurekas and look at some of the remarkable entries here.


Parents, carers and teachers reached


Students taking part


Submissions received


Schools involved

We were all incredibly impressed by the quality of entries submitted for this first year of The Eurekas. It was amazing to see how the young people tapped into their passions and produced such thoughtful work. We wanted this competition to be a celebration of creativity, culture, collaboration, diversity and activity – all underpinned by physics themes – and it has certainly achieved this.

Rachel Yungman | Deputy Chief Executive, Institute of Physics