Raising funds to support physics
Sep 23, 2013
The Institute of Physics runs many initiatives that benefit physics and physicists. Peter Knight calls for your help to back a new fundraising campaign, launching today, to expand the institute’s work even further
A little over a century ago people were predicting the "end of physics", assuming that there was nothing new left to be discovered. Yet progress in refining our understanding of the universe goes on. The recent detection of the Higgs boson at CERN, innovations in cancer diagnosis and treatment, and research into graphene have helped to recapture the imaginations of politicians and the public. Thanks to people such as Brian Cox, science programmes are seeing a resurgence in popularity on TV.
The Institute of Physics (IOP), which publishes Physics World, has had a lot of recent success in its work supporting physics and physicists. For example, we have helped to start reversing a teaching shortage where 500 state schools in England are without a specialist physics teacher. This has left fewer students inspired to continue studying physics and is threatening the future of our discipline. The IOP began to run scholarships worth £20,000 each – funded by the UK government – that aim to attract the best and brightest graduates into teaching. In the first year of the programme more than 550 people applied for just 100 places and this year it has been closer to 650 applicants for the same number of places.
Our scholarships have been credited with a general increase in the number of graduates with top degrees looking to enter teaching. New teacher-training courses have been created combining physics with maths, to avoid deterring those, particularly engineering graduates, not keen on the idea of having to teach biology or chemistry. The IOP has also successfully lobbied the UK government for separate quotas for the numbers of teachers with a background in physics, chemistry and biology, rather than the catch-all "science". It is not only in the UK where we have had success but also overseas. The Physics for Development programme has helped to train some 800 teachers who have benefited an estimated 64,000 students in developing countries.
Away from teaching, the IOP has also worked to improve the under-representation of women, ethnic minorities and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, from school level right up to academia – vital if physics is to recruit from as wide a pool as possible. In schools that form part of our Stimulating Physics Network – a programme aimed to improve the uptake of A-level physics – progression to A-level physics among girls is up 200% from just a couple of years ago. Around three-quarters of UK university physics departments are now taking part in Project Juno – a programme to address gender inequality – with one Juno "champion" physics department in the UK now receiving a third of its undergraduate applications from girls.
The IOP has also highlighted the role physics plays in the economy, with physics-based businesses accounting for around 8.5% of the UK's gross value added (GVA) – a measure of the value of goods and services produced in an area of the economy – and employing a million people in the UK. Along with the other learned societies, our efforts have helped to avoid drastic cuts to the science budget.
Doing more with more
As I reach the end of my term as IOP president, I am immensely proud of all of the IOP's recent achievements. But I think we can do even better. We have shown that with more support we can do much more of this work, and have an even greater impact. But we need the appropriate resources to make this happen and this is why the IOP is launching a new fundraising campaign, Opportunity Physics, today. The goal is to raise £10m of extra funding over the next five years via contributions from members of the public, charitable foundations, individual donors and in the form of "legacy" donations from those who wish to leave something behind for physics after they are gone.
The idea is to use the money we raise to scale up our work in the areas where we have already proven we can do some good for physics – while remaining innovative and open to new ideas. The campaign will concentrate on education, the economy, society and discovery, encompassing the IOP's ambition to make a difference for physics in homes, schools, businesses and universities.
For example, the IOP wants to significantly increase the number of girls studying physics at A-level, as well as to expand our Stimulating Physics Network to benefit the whole of the UK and Ireland and not just England. We also want to double the number of industry placements we provide for undergraduates and the entrepreneurial skills workshops we run as well as adding an industry-led mentoring programme and extend our African teacher centres by 50%. These are just some of our priorities for our campaign and show our ambition and our determination to effect real, measurable change.
We have set up a campaign board made up of a cross-section of the community – leaders in academia, business and the media, as well as others who share our passion for physics. Since the first meeting in November 2012, that board has shared its time and expertise to help us make a solid case as to why people should support the IOP's work. We are going to begin making that case with an open day at the IOP's London offices today, which all of our members are welcome to attend.
The IOP's activities are not only for the good of a select few and a narrow representation of our own interests but they benefit our whole society, and people can appreciate physics now more than ever. With physics so ubiquitous, but the economy so straitened and government funding limited, it seems like the perfect time to begin a campaign aimed at raising money to expand our work. We can do much more with your help.
About the author
Sir Peter Knight is outgoing president of the Institute of Physics