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How to promote good physics

This is our practical guide to producing online physics content in a way that is appealing and approachable to a wide audience from all backgrounds. This will help us move towards a physics community that is more reflective of our society. And that means better physics!

Image text reads: How to promote good physics on social media: How to communicate physics clearly, engage your audience, and build a following. Check your sources: talk to a specialist, or read material written by one. It’s not too tough: Portraying physics as super difficult creates barriers to inclusivity. No jargon: Keep your language clear and simple. It’s not magic: Give proper explanations for the physical phenomena you talk about. Keep it relevant: Make sure your explanations capture the real world.

The image of physics

  • “I was told I was not smart enough for physics and that if I didn’t want to be an engineer there was no point.”
  • “Physics is not for everyone.”
  • “Physics to me was always for the privileged; for those who can afford time.”
  • “Our physics teacher told us that girls don't do as well in physics.”

The common theme throughout the above quotes is the notion that physics is for a select group of people characterised by privilege and even genius. This image can lead to people, often from underrepresented groups, not pursuing physics as a career path even if they want to. 

For those of us sharing our passion for physics online, it is therefore crucial that we portray physics in a positive way. 

Avoid portraying physics as “too difficult”

  • Inclusive: Information that reflects the true nature of doing physics. For example, this video from Dr Becky encourages the viewer to investigate physics more and is more accurate in portraying the subject as a community effort, building on the work of others. 
  • Exclusive: Stereotypes and myths about physics that create barriers to engagement. An example might be a video that refers to physics being hard, even if it’s done in the nature of clickbait or a joke. It might, for example, suggest physics is hard because it is maths heavy. 

Avoid portraying physics as a discipline for a narrow group of people

  • Inclusive: From being terrible at maths to a quantum physicist – my journey. Here, Dr Mithuna Yoganathan talks about her path toward studying physics, explaining that she wasn’t good at maths in her high school years (16-19) but because she loved it, she was determined to study it and now has a doctorate from the University of Cambridge.
  • Exclusive: Videos in which the only representation of physicists is the stereotypical “lone genius”. Read more about how to avoid this in the Challenging Stereotypes section. 

Physics content

Social media is a space where much is said in the name of physics, and it is important to ensure that content is accurate by design. We also need to be aware of how the practice of physics is portrayed; physics is more than a set of facts and explanations.

Promote correct information

Try to ensure content comes from a trusted source. Consider consulting a physics educator who works with a similar age group to your audience.

  • Good: Content that is accurate within the accepted and well-established theories and ideas of physics. 
  • Bad: Incorrect information about the laws of physics and the misappropriation of them to prove a point. 

Avoid explaining away phenomena

  • Good: Explanations that illuminate and invite discussion and further thought. 
  • Bad: Statements of “this is just how it is” that present physics as being based on fixed facts.
  • Good: Persuades the listener and creates understanding or insight into a phenomenon or behaviour.
  • Bad: Simply stating that a phenomenon occurs because of a law in physics or implying physics is magic. 

Try to take time to explain what a law means, elaborate, then give more contextual examples. 

Use clear, consistent, and contextual explanations

Determine the purpose of the content first, tailor your explanations to this purpose and use demonstrations, simulations, and graphics to enhance them. Where possible, ensure it relates to the experiences of the audience and refer to the impact of science on society.

If jargon is unavoidable, try to ensure that you only introduce technical language or equations once the foundations are understood. For example, the terms kinematics or SUVAT can be confusing if the audience has no prior knowledge. This depends on the audience of your content, but generally, remember to explain your jargon.

Audience plays an important role in delivering content; how you portray your content for younger students is very different from university students or parents. A good example of this is the IOP’s Do Try This at Home content compared to the Marvin and Milo content. The Do Try This at Home episodes are aimed at parents who may not have a physics background, so they include in-depth explanations and diagrams to aid the parents. In contrast, the Marvin and Milo episodes are aimed at teachers as fun, quick, enrichment activities they can use as part of a lesson, so they are short and to the point. 

Further reading

  • Glossary on IOPSpark - provides an authoritative voice that can help give confidence to all those involved in physics communication in the correct and consistent use of quantities.
  • Inclusive teaching tips - aimed at teachers, this document provides guidance on inclusivity for anyone producing educational content.