From farming to energy – there’s more than meets the eye in physics

Elora McFall and Brendan Owens explain why the Institute of Physics is going to the National Plowing Championships as it works to shatter stereotypes.

The Institute of Physics (IOP) is the professional body and society for physics in Great Britain and Ireland. We aim to increase public awareness and understanding of physics and support the development of a diverse and inclusive physics community.

It’s an exciting time for IOP Ireland with the recently expanded team, upcoming news and some exciting plans for the next year – check out this space!

The team has had a busy year so far. We launched a new physics careers brochure, hosted the annual spring membership meeting in Cork, had Jon Chase as a guest at this year’s Tyndall Lecture, attended the School Summit in Mayo, had two Vice Presidents of the IOP Council visit and most recently th week we wrapped up the visit of IOP’s new CEO and started our Physics R&D Blueprint Consultation! Next up are the national plowing championships, which we’re really looking forward to!

The focus of all our activities is the Limit Less campaign. The aim is to encourage more young people and people from under-represented groups to take up physics while breaking down stereotypes associated with physics. Young people care about solving the world’s problems and they deserve the opportunity to do so – physics can help them!

With many events returning in person, we look forward to getting out and meeting everyone!

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Why the National Plowing Championships?

When presenting possibilities in physics, we try to reach places that don’t serve an audience already engaged in science. We aim to reach a wide and diverse audience who can experience the unexpected by engaging in conversations about what physics means to them and hopefully getting them interested in where physics comes into play for society.

Physics plays a huge role in agriculture, whether it’s collecting flood and drought data through satellites, precision farming with GPS, or tackling the energy crisis and climate change. Physics plays a huge role in protecting the foundations of life and the future of our planet.

We want to spread our Limit Less message to fight prejudice and break down stereotypes that prevent many young people from considering a physics-based career. Physics isn’t just an academic pursuit — it’s a tool to inspire and empower people to change the world. Without these individuals in research, education and industry, the world will be denied diverse innovators who can help build a better future for all!

At the National Plowing Championships, IOP staff and volunteers will be showcasing a wide range of physics-based careers with our brand new Careers Brochure! This includes interviews with people who shared their personal stories and highlights a variety of jobs; from using physics in hospitals to save lives, to predicting weather events, to using physics knowledge to write creative poetry. There is more to physics than meets the eye.

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Regarding the physics on display, we will demonstrate how the hydraulics work using homemade hydraulic arms. We feature spectacular images from Earth observation satellites monitoring farmland hundreds of miles above us. And we’re going to be absolutely blown away when we talk about the physics of bees – including how they can see the invisible!

Of course, we’re also happy to answer questions about physics, whether it’s about what’s happening here on Earth or in the deepest, darkest parts of the universe.

You don’t have to be Einstein to get into physics

Physics isn’t just for one type of person. Physicists are often portrayed in the media as older white men, lonely geniuses with no social skills. When you picture a physicist, who do you think of – someone resembling Albert Einstein or Sheldon Cooper? Have you seen the image results when you search for the word “physicist”? Physics has an image problem and we have to change that.

A lot of people shy away from physics because they think it’s not for them – sometimes because they don’t see people like themselves, or because they’ve been led to believe that you have to be “an Einstein” to do it.

We know some people are put off choosing physics because they think it’s too difficult, boring, or not creative. Others are discouraged from choosing physics because of stereotypes about who they are. Too many young people are made to feel that they don’t know physics or that they just don’t fit in. That’s so far from the truth.

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IOP’s Limit Less campaign aims to change the notion of who can do physics. Without realizing it, you’re probably practicing physics in your everyday life – whether that’s making a cup of tea, pushing a shopping cart, or trying to score a point in soccer!

We not only enjoy talking to young people, but also to their supporters. As a family member, teacher, friend, or mentor, you play a large role in influencing your youth’s decisions and opinions. Every young person should have the chance to build their future and change their world for the better. Now more than ever, we need to support young people to tackle global challenges and make a difference.

Physics equips young people with an amazing range of skills – skills that can take them further into physics or into a completely different direction!

By Elora McFall and Brendan Owens

Elora McFall is Program Officer for Ireland and Northern Ireland at the Institute of Physics, while Brendan Owens is Public Engagement Manager.

The Physics Department will have a booth at the National Plowing Championships taking place this week in RatheniskaCounty Laois. You can find the team at Arcade Hub, Block 3, Row 39, Stand 609.

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