STEM subjects fail to ‘marvel’ kids

According to a study of 1,000 children aged 5-13 by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), whilst over 90% of children think superheroes are “cool”, it’s the costume and their ability to save the world they admire most as opposed to their intelligence or technical know-how.

When surveyed, a shocking 60% didn’t realise Peter Parker (Spider-Man), Tony Stark (Iron Man), and Bruce Banner (The Hulk) are in fact scientists or engineers – and over three-quarters (75%) say they are more inspired by Spider-Man than science graduate Peter Parker, despite them being the same person.

This worrying finding and a lack of relatable STEM role models could lead to a shortage in the future innovation pipeline and forms the basis of the IET’s newly commissioned report. The ‘Super Realoes’ report explores why young people feel so differently about the fantasy of superheroes in comparison to the ground-breaking world of science and engineering and real-life STEM heroes.

Promisingly, the IET’s study reveals that we’re raising a generation of children who do want to solve world problems and help the planet when they’re older (90%).

Even more encouragingly, 65% claimed that after being informed that their heroes are in fact scientists or engineers they’d like to pursue a career in STEM, paving the way for our next generation of ‘Super Realoes’!

To help get children excited about and ‘marvel’ at the world of STEM, the IET has joined forces with comic book artists, Andy Lanning and Ant Williams to launch the ‘DM Universe’ (AKA the Difference Makers’ Universe – the IET’s elite group of STEM pioneers) as part of this year’s Engineer a Better World campaign.

The artists, best known for bringing some of the world’s most famous superheroes to life - like Captain America and The Hulk – have produced a short comic strip featuring STEM leaders and IET Difference Makers as superheroes.

The comic sees the ‘STEM Squad’ – featuring, amongst others, famous British astronaut Tim Peake – come together as a team to tackle a giant smog monster threatening to destroy one of the world’s biggest solar farms. How can they save the day? With the help of more engineers and scientists like them!

World-renowned astronaut, and Honorary Fellow of the IET, Tim Peake, AKA ‘Orbital’ from the STEM Squad, says: “I’m so excited to have been invited to join the STEM Squad; I’ve always loved superheroes but never imagined I could get to become one someday, let alone Orbital – helping to defeat elemental climate change monsters.”

“My fascination with science and engineering began when I was at school, and I feel passionately about getting more young people to share my love for STEM.

Future generations will face all kinds of hero-worthy challenges – from climate change to establishing human colonies on Mars. There really is a whole world of possibilities for them to explore – and STEM will be with them every step of the way.”

Dr Sarita Robinson, Deputy Head for the School of Psychology and Computer Science at University of Central Lancashire, author of 'Unmasked: The Science of Superheroes’ and contributor to the ‘Super-Realoes’ report, says:

“Whilst the connection between superheroes and their STEM professional alter egos isn’t always being understood, it’s encouraging to see the enthusiasm for the subjects once the link has been made.

What is more, superheroes offer parents and educators the perfect, accessible route into science for our children.

By talking to them about their heroes and building the connection to STEM, we have to opportunity to ignite the passions of a whole generation of ‘Super-Realoes’.”

IET President, Professor Danielle George MBE, says: “Superheroes are a huge part of culture – loved by parents and children alike. But whilst many of the plots and characters have STEM at their core, this isn’t wholly recognised or celebrated.

We want to use superheroes to supercharge STEM, champion the diverse role models doing amazing things in science and engineering and demonstrate to young people the many similarities between the two worlds.

“In bridging the STEM-superhero gap, we hope to inspire children to reconsider a career in engineering and technology, paving the way for our next generation of vaccine discoverers, environmentalists, astronauts and tech entrepreneurs.

With superhero technology already sharping modern science and engineering they really will be ‘Super-Realoes’ and difference-makers!”

To find out more about this year’s Engineer a Better World campaign and to download the full ‘Super-Realoes’ report visit:


Notes to editors

About the research

The research was conducted by 3Gem from 6th -12th August 2021 – surveying 1,000 children between the ages of 5-13 years old.

About Engineer A Better World

  • Engineer A Better World (EABW) is an annual campaign run by the IET that’s dedicated to celebrating STEM careers and getting young people passionate about becoming inventors and creators of the future.
  • For this year’s campaign, we are looking at STEM through the lens of superheroes to explore the diverging attitudes and affinity towards superheroes and real-life STEM heroes.
  • For more information about EABW please visit:

About the IET

  • We inspire, inform and influence the global engineering community to engineer a better world.
  • We are a diverse home for engineering and technology intelligence throughout the world. This breadth and depth means we are uniquely placed to help the sector progress society.
  • We want to build the profile of engineering and technology to change outdated perceptions and tackle the skills gap. This includes encouraging more women to become engineers and growing the number of engineering apprentices.
  • Interview opportunities are available with our spokespeople from a range of engineering and technology disciplines including cyber-security, energy, engineering skills, innovation, manufacturing, technology, transport and diversity in engineering.
  • For more information, visit
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