Society

In the third of our series on IOP’s new strategy themes, we look at the place of physics in society

Society

A million people. That’s how many the Institute is aiming to reach through its public-engagement activities by 2019.

We’re aiming for a wider enjoyment of and engagement with physics among non-specialist audiences – and particularly those who are currently disengaged – and we want people to see physics as a part of our culture.

The Institute’s new Islington premises will play a hugely important role in this. It’ll give us a space to host public events and have an interactive multimedia exhibition space – which should make the IOP a popular destination in the ‘Knowledge Quarter’. As the building will be open to the public, there’ll be more opportunities for our target audiences to interact with physicists.

But we’re not just a London organisation: we want to increase our impact across the UK and Ireland. We’ll roll out activities using a ‘hub and spoke’ model, making best use of our presence in the nations and regions, and we’re aware that one size doesn’t fit all and that activities will have to be designed to meet local needs.

Some of the Institute’s public engagement work will be revitalised existing projects such as Physics in the Field, and we’re also going to develop some major new ones. We know that we can’t expect disengaged people to seek out physics-related activities, so we’ll take it to them instead – whether geographically, through organisations they’re already engaged with, or via existing interests such as through collaborations with the worlds of sport or the arts. By working this way we can establish physics as an integral part of the culture of the UK and Ireland.

In many respects, now is the perfect time to do this: physics is more popular than ever, with Prof. Brian Cox enjoying celebrity status; we have a government supportive of science education, and recognition from funding bodies that the ‘impact’ of scientific research includes impact on society.

There are, however, still barriers to participation, such as gender inequality or socioeconomic status, as well as challenges in funding for effective programmes.

We’ll be seeking funding from a range of different sources, and look to produce programmes and activities with partners rather than as solo efforts. Partnership working will allow the Institute to extend its reach, and to access a greater range of skills and experience, while pooling our resources with those of other organisations means we’ll be able to do projects that wouldn’t be possible to do alone – and reach those million people that little bit easier.