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

20 Sep 2022

Image: © Dudarev Mikhail/

Elora McFall and Brendan Owens explain why the Institute of Physics is headed to the National Ploughing Championships as it works to smash stereotypes.

The Institute of Physics (IOP) is the professional body and learned society for physics in the UK and Ireland. We seek to raise 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 team recently expanding, upcoming news to announce and some thrilling plans for the next year – watch this space!

The team have had a busy year so far. We launched a new physics careers booklet, hosted the annual members’ spring meeting in Cork, had Jon Chase as this year’s Tyndall Lecture guest, attended the School Summit in Mayo, had visits from two of the IOP Council vice-presidents, and just last week we wrapped up a visit from IOP’s new CEO and launched our physics R&D blueprint consultation! Next up is the National Ploughing Championships, which we are really looking forward to!

Woven into the heart of all our activity is the Limit Less campaign. This aims to encourage more young people and those from underrepresented groups to do physics while smashing the 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 achieve this!

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

Why the National Ploughing Championships?

When showcasing opportunities in physics, we try to go places that aren’t serving an audience who are already engaged in science. We want to reach a wide and varied audience who can experience the unexpected by having conversations about what physics means to them, and hopefully interest them in where physics comes into play for society.

Physics plays a huge part in farming whether it’s flood and drought data gathered by satellites, precision farming using GPS, or ways of tackling the energy crisis and climate change. Physics has a huge part to play in protecting livelihoods and the future of our planet.

We want to spread our Limit Less messaging to combat prejudice and dismantle stereotypes that prevent many young people 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 is denied diverse innovators who can help build a better future for everyone!

At the National Ploughing Championships, staff and volunteers from the IOP will be showcasing a vast range of physics-based careers with our brand-new careers booklet! This features interviews with folks who have shared their personal stories and highlights a variety of jobs; from using physics in hospitals to help save lives, to predicting weather events, and using physics knowledge to write creative poetry. There’s more than meets the eye in physics.

In terms of physics on display, we’ll be demonstrating how hydraulics work with some homemade hydraulic arms. We’ll show spectacular images from Earth-gazing satellites that monitor farmland from hundreds of kilometres above us. And we’ll be absolutely buzzing talking about the physics of bees – including the how they can see the invisible!

Of course we’ll happily take questions about physics too whether they’re 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 specific type of person. In media, physicists are often represented as older white men, lone geniuses lacking 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 the word ‘physicist’? Physics has an image problem, and we need to change that.

Many people shy away from physics, assuming it surely can’t be for them – sometimes because they don’t see people like themselves doing it or because they’ve been led to believe you need to be ‘an Einstein’ to do it.

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

IOP’s Limit Less campaign aims to change the perception of who can do physics. Without realising it, you’re probably practising physics in your everyday life – whether you’re making a cup of tea, pushing a shopping trolley or practicing scoring a point in football!

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

Doing physics equips young people with an amazing range of skills – skills that can take them further into physics, or in another direction entirely!

By Elora McFall and Brendan Owens

Elora McFall is programme officer for Ireland and Northern Ireland at the Institute of Physics, while Brendan Owens is public engagement manager.

The Institute of Physics will have a stand at the National Ploughing Championships, which are taking place this week in Ratheniska, Co Laois. You can find the team in the Arcade Hub, Block 3, Row 39, Stand 609.

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