Physics? It's still all geeks to us, public tells institute

November 7, 2003

The stereotype of the physics geek is alive and well among the general public and academic physicists themselves, a survey has found.

The Institute of Physics challenged a random selection of shoppers on Oxford Street in London to identify the physicist in a line-up of suspects.

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An overwhelming 98 per cent got it wrong. Most selected a white middle-aged male, sporting glasses and a beard.

The IoP said this stereotype was no longer accurate. Since 1960, the number of women entering physics had doubled - although the field is still struggling to recruit more people - and the average age of a physicist is 31.

But it is not only the public who are behind the times. In a more comprehensive survey of the IoP's own members earlier in the year, physicists painted a similarly dated image of the subject.

Most agreed the average physicist was a 60-year-old man dressed in tweed.

If he threw a party, there would be sweet white wine, a selection of cheeses, classical music and no dancing.

The institute found its members wanted physics to have a higher profile in this country.

Its chief executive, Julia King, said: "The IoP not only wants to persuade the media to change the images they promote but also to get physicists themselves to recognise and promote the diverse nature of our own community."

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From left to right: history student, project coordinator, graphic designer, PA, policy officer, database coordinator and pysicist.

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