News & Analysis Physics World  July 2017

New educational material to tempt women into physics

Targeting the classroom The US National Science Foundation is funding a programme led by Zahra Hazari to inspire female high school students to pursue physics. (Florida International University)

A major four-year initiative to increase the number of women studying physics at undergraduate level in the US begins this month thanks to $3m in funding from the National Science Foundation. Led by Zahra Hazari, a physics-education researcher at Florida International University, the programme will involve developing material to add to high-school curricula to inspire female students to pursue physics at university. The American Physical Society (APS), American Association of Physics Teachers and Texas A&M University-Commerce will also be involved.

The initiative will consist of a selected group of high-school physics teachers from both urban and rural locations around the US working with the researchers to develop “intervention” material that can be used in any physics classroom across the US. That group of experienced physics teachers will then use the material in their classrooms for the 2017–2018 academic year.

The following year will involve a random set of teachers trying the material as well as a “control” group that does not use it. The third year of the programme will comprise researchers launching a national campaign to reach as many high-school physics teachers as possible. They will place the material online for broad access, run workshops and hold webinars to reach a wide network of high-school teachers.

It is hoped the programme will be rolled out to 16,000 physics educators – about 60% of all high-school physics teachers – by 2019. “If one in every three high-school physics teachers recruits one additional female student to a physics major, we will close the gender gap among incoming undergraduate physics majors,” she says. “Even if we only see a 5% increase and not the 30% increase we need to close the gender gap, it would be a greater increase than any decade in history.”

Liz Kruesi