Unless you live on the planet Zog, you will have probably
struggled with physics.
Even I ducked physics at A level, prefering the creativity
of chemisty and biology. I had a narrow escape - my friends
who pursued life at Imperial College with the S papers and
double maths were, at times, just a little bit scary.
They not only understood the codes of Einstein, they debated
them with our lecturers. They just saw life, the universe
and everything as the number 42. However, I now understand
how physics is life, the universe and everything.
I do sympathise with the GCSE students in the bulletin I filmed
who found physics "really boring". I lost the will
to live in many classes where I had to measure velocity with
ticker-tape - over and over and over again.
But scientists have come out of the labs and broken the egg-head
stereotypes to deliver engaging (and understandable) TV programmes
on some hardcore stuff like string theory. I'm on the edge
of my seat waiting to see if the Large Hadron Collider at
CERN will reveal the Higgs Boson particle.
But, five years on from filming the bored pupils who saw no
application of physics to their mobile phones, the latest
news is that they are still finding science a massive turn-off.
Despite many schools amalgamating the traditional three sciences
of biology, chemistry and physics into "science"
(because we'd do that with French and German and call it "language",
wouldn't we?) and making the assessments and exams so easy
even my mother, who left school at 15, could pass them, the
crops of our future engineers and innovators are dwindling.
Small wonder that physics gets a bum deal because there are
fewer and fewer teachers who actually studied it to degree
level. And those who go on about the pupils of today performing
better than generations before them - because we were obviously
stupid and Stephen Hawking and Tim Berners-Lee were just lucky
in their exams - should take a look at the O level chemistry
paper of yesteryear with all it millimol concentration calculations
and the multiple choice question about whether the sun orbits
the earth, the earth orbits the sun, or satellites orbit Mars.
It's not rocket science to detect that perhaps the one is
easier than the other - a lot easier.
Having witnessed first hand the abysmal knowledge of chemistry
that first-year pharmacy students have - and having spent
many hours in tutorials convincing them that, yes, they do
need to know how to calculate millimol dilutions if they are
going to be a safe pharmacist - I'd say that standards have
fallen and science curricula are decaying faster than radioactive
So, Barack Obama has promised a hefty multi-billion investment
in science in the hope that research will yield the technology
for reversing climate change and Gordon Brown has ring-fenced
money for UK science to protect it from the recession. But
their efforts will be wasted unless the next generation of
scientists can be enticed into a career that withe promise
that pushing the envelope on innovation and exploration is
not really boring.