SCHOOLS should use Hollywood blockbusters like Star Wars, Deep Impact and Armageddon to fire pupils' interest in science and tackle its "nutty professor" image, it was claimed this week.
An extensive study has found that most children continue to see scientists as eccentric, lonely "geeks" and "anoraks" who never have any fun.
The Government, concerned that talented youngsters are turned off by science, is to launch a campaign in schools to persuade teenagers that it is exciting and relevant to their future careers.
Researchers for SCIcentre, the National Centre for Initial Teacher Training in Primary School Science, asked more than 4,000 primary pupils in the UK and Australia to draw a scientist.
Predictably, most produced an image of a man with a beard or moustache, wild hair, glasses and a white coat. Boys never drew women and only a few girls thought scientists could be female, while black and Asian students were unlikely to draw a scientist from an ethnic minority.
Dr Tina Jarvis, director of SCIcentre and a senior lecturer in education at Leicester University, said: "It is vitaly important that we combat at the earliest possible age this stereotypical image children have. Otherwise we are going to have a serious shortage of scientists in the future.
"The best way to change children's perceptions is by emphasising the social and practical relevance of science and by teaching them about lesser-known scientists who do not fit the stereotype of male, eccentric and white."
Astronomer Mark Brake, founder of a degree course in science and science fiction and head of earth and space sciences at the University of Glamorgan, said schools should capitalise on children's interest in science-based Hollywood blockbusters to stimulate classroom discussion.
He said: "The success of these films proves that young people are intrigued by, for example, the possibility of extra-terrestrial life or asteroid strikes.
"If kids are interested in films like Deep Impact or Armageddon - the idea that there may be an asteroid with the earth's name on it - that could be stimulus for them to learn something, for example on Keppler's laws and the motions of the planets."