A third of 14-year-olds would not consider a career as a scientist because they think people who work in laboratories are a "bit weird," and do "boring jobs".
A survey of Year 9s found that only a quarter felt it would be good to have such a job - 15 per cent of them admitted they were unsure what scientists did. However, they seemed to recognise the significance of the subject to the world: 84 per cent said it was important for the country to have qualified scientists.
The questionnaire - answered by 825 pupils in 36 schools - was commissioned by the National Science Learning Centre, for trainee teachers at York university.
Despite the negative image, around half the pupils indicated that they intended to take a science subject beyond GCSE. Of these, more than a third said they hoped to opt for biology, but only 18 per cent wanted to study chemistry or physics.
John Holman, head of the York centre, said: "We need to show pupils how useful it is for their further careers. Science opens up all kinds of non-scientific careers, from finance to journalism."
Alexandra Park school in Haringey, north London, has invited people who use science in their jobs - including a hairdresser who makes dyes from organic products - to talk to pupils.
Mike Terry, a physics teacher at the Alexandra Park, said: "The pupils are all into their iPods and things like that, but they don't always make the link between them and the science they do at school."