Do young people like science? Generally, yes. Do they think that science is something they could do for a career? Generally, no.

Why is there such a discrepancy between liking science and actually doing science in later life?

The TISME (Targetted Initiative on Science and Maths Education) research projects at King’s College London, were set up, in part, to look into this question.

One of the projects, ASPIRES, looked particularly at what influences young peoples’ likes and career choices between the ages of 10 – 14.  ASPIRES found that liking science is not enough and that students didn’t know where science could lead them.  As a result, they didn’t choose science.  Unfortunately, the findings from ASPIRES suggest that many of the past and current interventions to encourage young people to study science at higher levels won’t work.  Inspiring one-off ‘special’ activities with no link to the self-concept of the young person might be enjoyable, but they’re probably not going to be effective.  The ASPIRES team helpfully produced a summary of their recommendations ‘10 Facts and Fictions: the case for early education about STEM careers‘ which is well worth a read.

Here at Think Physics we like to think of ourselves as a post-ASPIRES outreach project, making use of their findings as a lens through which to view what we do.  We are also a gender equity project, and our aim is to encourage ALL students to consider the pathways that physics may lead them on.


Like space, the Think Physics project is BIG.  Really BIG.  Over the initial three years of the project, we aim to work with both young people and their key influencers.  These are people such as parents, carers and other family members, friends and teachers: all of whom help shape young peoples’ ideas about what they are like and what they should do with their lives.  From ASPIRES, we know that the earlier we start the better, and so the project was designed to work with children from pre-school to post-16.

Working with young people.

Working with a number of partner schools (around 15 primary and 15 secondary) we offer a menu of activities and opportunities to show young people the pathways that studying science can lead to.  Part of what we offer is:

  • Careers-inspired, curriculum-linked workshops.  You can see the reports of some of our workshops in the Activities pages.
  • Careers-focussed assemblies and workshops.
  • Activities for after-school STEM clubs, including ‘maker’ activities.
  • A bank of careers information and case studies to support and offer context for the rest of our activities.
  • and lots more.

Our aim is for young people to interact with Think Physics a number of times so that there is a ‘drip-feed’ of our messages.  Some of our activities are aimed specifically at girls.  Where we ask schools to nominate a smaller number of students to take part in activities then we aim for gender equity, and ask schools to suggest equal numbers of girls and boys.

Partner schools were chosen using a variety of measures including recommendation from Local Authority partners, size and pupil premium percentage.

As well as working with partner schools, we also work in a more limited way with linked schools.  Some of our activities that are open to both partner and linked schools are:

  • Physics Matters! and Physics in Perspective talks for post-16 students
  • Think Lab STEM weeks (once a term)
  • Royal Institution Engineering Masterclasses for Year 8 and Year 11
  • Workshops and activities around the STFC Explore Your Universe project.
  • Web-site resources

We also support and attend a number of larger events such as North East Skills, The Big Bang Fair North East, and Maker Faire UK.  At these events, our aim is to ‘big up physics’ rather than the Think Physics project.  We talk with young people and their parents about how Physics is all around them, as well as the opportunities that studying physics might lead to.

Working with others.

ASPIRES defines ‘Science capital’ as:

science-related qualifications, understanding, knowledge (about science and ‘how it works’), interest and social contacts (e.g. knowing someone who works in a science-related job).
Working with young peoples’ family and friends we aim to help increase their science capital – particularly in primary schools.  We are doing this directly, for example, through our Science for Families course, attendance at school (STEM) fairs and running pop-up shops near our partner schools.
However, we also try to do this indirectly by giving pupils a postcard to take home after we have visited the school to run a workshop for them.  On the postcards, as well as an image linked to the workshop, there is a URL which takes the visitor to a blog post about our visit to the school.  This contains photographs from the day (of the children if permitted), a description of what we did, and links to further ideas or activities that can be done at home.  We can track our page views to see if parents are visiting these pages, and also see how long they are staying on the website.

Teachers are also important influencers and we aim to support them in a number of ways.  We host, as well as lead, subject CPD opportunities both at Think Lab and further afield, we’re developing subject support networks for both primary and A-level, and we’re using our careers links to help them to contextualise their lessons with case studies of STEM related companies.

As part of our wider remit, Think Physics has been working with arts, cultural and community organisations to bring STEM to places it otherwise might not be seen.  For example, we co-curated an exhibition with The Holy Biscuit this year called ‘8 minutes 20 seconds‘ about the Sun and the human response to it.

Physics is about exploring the world, and we think those explorations can be delightful, surprising and satisfying. We believe physics should be accessible to everyone, for study and pleasure, from early years through school to employment and beyond.
a scatter of post-it notes bearing ideas for Think Physics


Think Physics is a partnership of local authorities, visitor centres, industry and academia from across the North-East: see our Partners page for details. It’s led by Northumbria University and part-funded by HEFCE, the Higher Education Funding Council for England.  How successful we are will depend, in part, on how well we work together as a group.

Our main success criteria for HEFCE are focused around the upper age range of our activities.  We aim to increase the number of students (including girls and those from low socioeconomic status neighbourhoods) in our partner schools studying and completing A-level Physics.  As a consequence, we are also aiming to increase the number of students from our partner schools who go on to study Physics or a Physics related degree at University.  In the event that the educational changes made by the government since 2010 have an adverse effect on A-level Physics uptake, we will also be comparing partner schools with similar local schools, and with the national picture, to observe trends in A-level entry.

However, we are also developing more qualitative research methods to try to measure the increase in science capital of young people in our partner schools, particularly in primary.  This is an under-researched area and one which we are excited about venturing into.

We also hope that the work that we do will encourage further funding and are investigating possible sources.