An introduction to our work

The 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. As a charity, we are here to ensure that physics delivers on its exceptional potential to benefit society.

The IOP’s charitable mission is underpinned by IOP Publishing (IOPP), as a subsidiary of the IOP. Profits from our publishing activities support the IOP’s valuable work ensuring that the IOP is able to:

  • Run programmes, independently and in collaboration with partners, that
    support physics and science education at every level
  • Increase the public profile of physics
  • Promote the value of physics to our economy and society

The IOP is both a producer and a convenor, working at a strategic level to influence and contribute to science and physics policy and practice, and support physics in practice in academia, education, business and industry. A key part of the IOP’s mission is to raise awareness and understanding of physics with the wider public.

The IOP works internationally to unlock physics’ potential to help solve global issues ensuring the development of global and bilateral partnerships that benefit science, physics and people.

At the heart of the IOP’s mission is the need for a strong, diverse, successful physics community in both the UK and Ireland and in the wider world. The IOP’s programmes and international work are key to this.

Here are just some of the initiatives that the IOP runs to promote physics in society.

The Institute of Physics (IOP) works to advance physics for the benefit of all and to ensure that physics delivers on its exceptional potential to benefit society.

Supporting physics as a global endeavour

Physics is global and has the potential to solve global problems, with international physics partnerships playing an essential role. The IOP and IOPP work to support international cooperation between physicists.

The IOP uses its convening power to provide a neutral space in which international networks and collaborations can be developed. As well as developing knowledge exchange networks with partners in China, India and Canada, the IOP partners with local organisations in Tanzania to deliver the innovative ‘Future STEM Business Leaders’ programme. This programme seeks to teach secondary school students how to apply their scientific training to solve community problems through the creation of science-based businesses. The programme is driven by partners in Tanzania and they include the Tanzanian Physical Society, the University of Dar es Salaam, the Dar Teknohama Business Incubator and several businesses throughout Tanzania. In 2018, the programme worked with five schools in Dar es Salaam and 50 students were involved.

International work in Tanzania
International work in Tanzania

In 2018, IOPP and the Egyptian Knowledge Bank signed an agreement which made all of IOPP’s journals and books accessible to every citizen of Egypt. The IOP and IOPP have worked together to support this agreement. IOPP has run a number of workshops for early career researchers in Egypt, while the IOP has hosted a delegation of Egyptian secondary school teachers of physics, led by the Egyptian Minister of Education, which met with UK counterparts to share their knowledge of physics teaching.

Every year, the IOP and IOPP jointly sponsor a number of early career awards at national physics society conferences throughout Latin America, working with the physical societies of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. IOPP also runs several publishing academy workshops each year, helping early career researchers better understand how to get published or how to review papers. The IOP and IOPP will work closely together to deliver these workshops as part of the knowledge exchange networks in China and India.

IOPP further supports international cooperation in physics through its publishing programmes for journals, books and conference proceedings, enabling physicists to communicate their research findings to a global audience, and via publishing partnerships with physical societies and research organisations in Asia (China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam); in Europe (France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Sweden, and with the European Physical Society); and in the USA.

Physics student and Bell Burnell Fund supporter Ozioma (Ozi) Kamalu (centre), with friends at Edinburgh University

Increasing opportunity for all in physics – building capacity, diversity and innovation

The IOP believes that the physics community should reflect the broad diversity within our society. Addressing the issue of diversity within physics will not only help close the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills gap, but will also unlock new technology and maintain the UK and Ireland’s role as a world leader in innovation.

The IOP manages and supports several programmes which highlight that a diverse physics sector benefits everyone and that everyone should feel welcome and supported within the physics community.

IOPP has set itself targets for increasing the number of peer reviewers from China and India, increasing the number of female reviewers and ensuring the gender and geographical diversity of editorial boards.

Improving gender balance

The IOP is a specialist in tackling gender imbalance in STEM subjects. The ground-breaking Improving Gender Balance (IGB) programme was launched in 2014 and seeks to improve the confidence of girls in STEM subjects, as well as their experience in the physics classroom. Following a pilot project in six schools, which saw the number of girls taking A-level physics more than treble over two years, the IGB programme is building on the research and practice base for this work and aims to roll out to further schools over time. A randomised control trial with a selection of secondary schools in England is taking place in 2019.

Recognising diversity in the community

In partnership with the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Astronomical Society, the IOP launched the first ever UK and Ireland LGBT+ physical sciences survey to document the experience of those in our community who identify as LGBT+. Projects such as this complement the IOP’s LGBT+ network and raise the profile of underrepresented groups, recognising their experiences and providing a baseline of data against which future work can be measured. Another outcome of the survey has been the development of a set of recommendations that employers and universities can implement to improve the experiences of LGBT+ students and employees.

Supporting underrepresented groups in physics

The Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund is a new PhD scholarship fund to support greater diversity in physics. The Fund has been made possible thanks to the generosity of Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who won the prestigious Breakthrough Prize in 2018 for the discovery of pulsars. Dame Jocelyn chose to donate her £2.3m prize award to the IOP to set up the Fund. The Fund aims to support groups who are currently underrepresented in physics, including female students, black and other minority ethnic (BAME) students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Over time, the Fund aims to create a network of active and engaged alumni, who have been supported by the Fund and who have a supportive network to turn to, and who can, in turn, help support others.

Early career physicists – support from the start

The IOP is committed to supporting early career members at the very start of their careers.

120

Travel bursaries

20

Workshops aimed at supporting early career members

25%

Increased early career membership since 2014

Last year, the IOP gave 120 travel bursaries allowing early career members to travel to international conferences. In 2018, IOPP in turn ran 20 workshops aimed at supporting early career researchers to better understand the scientific peer review and publication process. The IOP also offers discounts to international conferences, networking opportunities through the Early Researchers Member Group and tailored career advice through our Early Career Development Hub. Our early career membership has increased by 25% since 2014. The IOP is also committed to increasing the transparency of routes into STEM careers and helping early career researchers develop the skills they need to succeed in either business or academia.

Physics and education – supporting the development of the next generation of physicists

Through its pioneering education programme in the UK, the IOP aims to promote the recruitment of physics teachers, aid teacher retention, support teachers of physics with quality Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and educational resources and support the development of a strong, diverse education workforce.

The IOP also works closely with policy-makers to ensure the creation of the cultural conditions in which physics as a subject can thrive. The IOP believes that all students in schools across the UK and Ireland should have access to a quality physics education, and that teachers should be supported to feel confident and able to deliver the sort of imaginative, inspiring teaching that encourages students to pursue physics.

Over 1,500 physics or science departments are affiliated to the IOP, which represents around 25% of all secondary schools in the UK and Ireland. This is testament to the value of support the IOP offers schools and teachers. IOPP’s international publications in physics also support the education programme in sharing knowledge of research and practice in physics teaching around the world.

Teacher recruitment – the ‘scholar’ programme

1,500

Affiliated physics or science departments

600

Teachers engaged in the programme

1,009

Partnered schools

Teacher retention

The IOP received funding of £2.73 million from the UK’s Department for Education to run the Future Physics Leaders (FPL) programme. The FPL programme provides support for schools in disadvantaged areas or areas with low social mobility. This programme specifically supports specialist physics teachers, providing them with personalised professional development to help develop, support and retain them in the profession as physics teachers. So far, the programme has engaged over 600 teachers and developed 2,000 hours of professional development training.

Teacher support

The IOP also provides bespoke support for maths, chemistry and biology teachers who teach physics through its Stimulating Physics Network programme. The network aims to improve the quality of physics teaching in schools and thus improve both the uptake of physics A-level and the overall standard of GCSE physics grades. Since 2009, the project has reached 1,009 unique schools and GCSE physics results in partner schools have significantly improved with the proportion of candidates getting A*– C at 82% compared with 69% nationally.

Connecting business and academia – building networks

Recent research carried out on behalf of the IOP shows that physics innovation contributes £77 billion to the UK economy every year. The IOP has a pivotal role to play in helping support physics in business and industry in the UK and Ireland. As the professional body for physicists, the IOP is uniquely placed to bring together physicists in business and industry to connect and explore ideas. The IOP facilitates this in a number of ways:

Supporting physics-based businesses

The IOP facilitates connections between research in academia and bringing physics- based products to market. Every year, the IOP hosts the well-attended Business, Innovation and Growth Conference which connects entrepreneurs and physics-based businesses helping them to develop necessary skills.

The conference sees physics businesses and physicists working in industry come together to hear how small, medium and large businesses have pioneered physics-based innovations and opened up growth markets. In May 2019, we launched our Accelerator Centre in London.

IOP Business Awards winner ONI photographed with IOP’s President and Council members
IOP Business Awards winner ONI photographed with IOP’s President and Council members

We want to help get the next big ideas in physics off the ground, so we are offering an attractive base flexible enough to support companies in their crucial early stages of growth. As well as light, bright and modern fully-equipped office space, we are providing regular business support clinics to enable young physics companies to hone the skills crucial to succeed in today’s economy, such as accessing funding and delivering investor pitches.

The IOP Business Awards recognise the significant contribution that physicists and physics make in industry across all sectors and at all stages – from start-ups to multi- national corporations. The awards are a celebration of entrepreneurship, excellence in innovation and the successful use of physics in a product or service. The awards help raise the profile of businesses, as well as promoting individual businesses’ innovation using the IOP’s extensive business networks. Winning businesses attend a parliamentary reception, as well as receiving collateral to assist in future investment and funding applications.

Providing data-driven solutions

Physics Insights is a data visualisation project that plots research and industry collaboration to map the physics landscape. It tracks the scope of funding, research, publications and patents to build a picture of emerging technological innovations and to highlight potential areas of investment.

Physics Insights provides a valuable evidence base for the physics community that can be used to underpin our programmes and policy work with the government, business and academia. It supports the IOP, and our community using data and evidence to drive change for the benefit of our physics community.

Increasing public awareness and understanding of physics

Part of the IOP’s mission is to increase public awareness and understanding of physics. One of its three key strategic goals, in the five-year period starting in 2019, is to encourage and support informed debate so that citizens can participate in discussions and decision-making about issues that affect them.

Its world-class magazine Physics World is available in printed form to IOP members only, but physicsworld.com is available online worldwide to anyone who registers for access to it. The website brings news and information on developments, people and events in physics and astronomy, to both specialist and non- specialist readers, in an easily accessible form.

Members of the public exploring physics at IOP’s flagship King’s Cross building
Members of the public exploring physics at IOP’s flagship King’s Cross building

In conclusion

These are just some of the ways that the IOP uses funding to support its aim of advancing physics for the benefit of all. Our focus on public engagement, improving and supporting physics education, supporting physics-based businesses and making our community stronger through diversity, are the central focus of our work and the platform for our future endeavours.