Institute of Physics experiments with TikTok stars to win over new generation of scientists

A physics society founded in the Victorian era is hiring TikTok stars in an attempt to overcome “stereotypes” about the subject.

The Institute of Physics, which was established in 1874, is now turning to social media influencers to generate more interest in the subject.

A campaign launching on Tuesday will see TikTokkers carrying out experiments such as walking on a carton of eggs without breaking them to encourage more girls and students from ethnic minorities to choose physics for GCSE and A-level.

The campaign comes as fewer than three per cent of girls and just eight per cent of boys in England go on to take physics at A-level. In Wales, it is just two per cent of girls and nine per cent of boys, and in Northern Ireland it is just one per cent of girls and three per cent of boys.

Scotland has a different school structure and, as a result, 23 per cent of girls and 77 per cent of boys take advanced higher physics.

Among the TikTokkers now working with the institute are Shauni Kibby, the UK’s fourth most popular TikTok influencer, who has more than 16 million followers on the video-sharing app.

Among the 21-year-old’s most popular videos are of her having foodstuffs such as custard and raspberry syrup poured over her.

TikTokkers Matthew & Ryan have also signed up to the campaign

Speaking about her campaign for the institute, Ms Kibby said: “I’ve come to understand that physics not only can help us understand the world better, but that it is also helping us to tackle some of the biggest challenges we face, including climate change, public health and poverty.

“It would be amazing if my content can play some small part in helping more young people to seize the opportunities physics offers.”

Other TikTok influencers signed up to the scheme include Matthew & Ryan, with 5.4 million followers, and Tamzin Taber, who has four million followers.

The campaign comes as the institute, which has counted some of Britain’s most eminent scientists among its ranks, is attempting to shed physics image as a difficult and technical subject.

The institute was first formed as the Physical Society of London after Prof Frederick Guthrie, of the Royal College of Science, and his assistant, William Barrett, wrote to physicists suggesting they form a “society for physical research”.

Prof Guthrie was a prominent physicist and chemist who was one of the first scientists to synthesise mustard gas and note its toxic effects.

Tamzin Taber, who has four million TikTok followers, will also take part in the campaign

The original Victorian institute was open to women from its establishment, but has since struggled to attract equal numbers of girls and boys to take up the subject.

Earlier this year, it appointed Prof Helen Gleeson from the University of Leeds to be the institute’s first representative for inclusion and diversity on its governing council.

The institute is also aiming to have girls make up at least 30 per cent of 16- to 19-year-olds studying physics by 2024, and to also double the current number of young people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds studying it.

Rachel Youngman, the institute’s deputy chief executive, said: “We are committed to tackling stereotypes so that more young people choose physics as an option at school.

“Studying physics not only helps young people to understand, and change, their world, but it is also a gateway to a wide range of fulfilling and rewarding careers, both within physics itself and in other fields. What better way to share our message than through the influencers on TikTok who can reach so many more young people than we could ever do alone.”

According to calculations by the institute, physics-based industries are worth £177 billion a year to the UK economy, about 10 per cent of GDP. 

Boris Johnson’s “Skills, skills, skills” Tory conference speech in October highlighted increasing physics education take-up as a government priority.

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