Steven Hawking, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman. These are all very well-known physicists who made great attributions to our knowledge of the universe. However, when asking people if they knew any female physicists, no answers (except perhaps the infamous Marie Curie) could be given. Already, this shows a flaw in the field of physics.

Physics is depicted as a very hard and boring subject, through media (both in popular and real TV shows), universities, and even sometimes physicists themselves. And therefore, many people try to steer away from it.

Mr. Le, Head of Physics at Woodford County High School went on to add that the subject is portrayed as “very nerdy and only accessible to the geniuses of the world, and so, there is this idea that you cannot be just an enthusiastic and decent student. You have to be a so-called ‘Einstein’. Thus, it makes the subject look very unrelatable and honestly unattractive.”.

During his years of schooling, he said that out of 15 students in his class, only 3 were girls. And, at university, around 20 to 30 out 120 undergraduates were female. Immediately, one can see an incredible gender inequity.

Although physics is in the top 10 A-levels chosen, it is the second most gender imbalanced A-level in 2021, after computer science, with only 23% of the applicants being girls. That is only for A levels! At universities, in the workplace, and even physics itself (where it has been found that there are fields like experimental physics that are more male-based, as opposed to fields like theoretical physics) it is evident that the subject is male-dominated.

Is there a reason why it came to be this way? Perhaps. Boys are found to be more confident in the class. Therefore, by being intimidated, it can discourage girls to get involved. There are also numerous gender casts in the media of women being overshadowed by men in physics. For example, in exam papers, a lot of the questions are to do with cars or rockets, which are historically stereotyped with male interests. Or in TV shows, physicists are portrayed as male characters who have incredible intelligence and come across as nerds who are socially awkward – not traits that are appealing to girls. This is why, in single-sex schools, girls are more engaged in STEM because these outside obstacles have been removed.

Girls are more likely to choose biology or medicine, rather than physics and maths, when it comes to STEM subjects. This is due to the nurturing stereotype of females. There are probably countless estimated guesses as to why this gender gap was created, but they are all built on stereotypes and nothing more.

People, both girls and boys, believe that, in order to have a career in physics, they have to be really smart. To that, Mr. Le commented with the question, “What is even meant by smart? Is it intellect? Is it academic attainment, as in the grades a student gets? Or is it about a student’s enthusiasm and passion for the subject? Because that speaks much louder to me than just grades. In my opinion, to be a physicist, you only need one mindset, and that is curiosity, which anyone can have.” Physics brings new questions every day. Solving one question only brings on more to solve, which makes it intriguing.

However, it is not only about this stereotype of physics being too hard. As a pure science, students are often unaware of what they can do with physics, apart from engineering. For this concept, many think of the content they have to learn. However, the main aspect of physics is that it has various skills, such as learning about the methods and mindsets of a scientist, problem-solving, teamwork, critical thinking, and more, that can be applied to any industry. This makes it more diverse than any other subject. There is a place for physicists in engineering, astronomy, medicine, computing, nanotechnology, really anywhere.

Physics is truly about understanding. One does not have to be an Einstein or super bright to comprehend these concepts. Physics is all conjoined together, and once one aspect is understood, it can be used to understand another concept i.e., using classical physics to understand quantum physics, and using quantum physics to determine both the beginning of the universe but also the end of it too. It is more about learning than just memorising content, which makes it so interesting, especially in the real world. With this skill of understanding concepts, anyone can really combat anything with its application.

When asking Mr. Le whether physics is a dying subject, he immediately answered no. “Does the younger generation have an interest in physics still? Absolutely. For example, students love to learn about space, and the idea of where we came from and what is outside Earth is quite invigorating for them. Of course, the question is whether they can see themselves studying it post-16 level. As someone who is in charge of this generation’s education, no matter where you are, who you are, how long you have been talking for, it is your duty to keep them inspired, so that if there is an interest there, it is capitalised and facilitated. And it is also the duty of any teacher (not just for physics) to help students keep an open mind, because most of the time, they won’t find the subject interesting due to those external factors spoken about. But no, physics is definitely not a dying subject.”