There is a problem with the younger generation. Across the world, young people in schools are choosing not to experiment with dangerous chemicals, many are failing to gaze into space, and some are even losing interest in sexual reproduction. Clearly something has to be done.

Falling interest in science — the physical sciences in particular — among teenagers is of global concern. Recent reports have highlighted a collapse in the number of students choosing to study chemistry and physics at university: UK chemistry students are down by 25% and physics students in France have fallen by 46% over recent years. Germany, the United States and Japan face similar problems.

Some of the reasons for this are well rehearsed. Science is universally acknowledged to be a relatively difficult subject, and at school level it is crammed with facts, leaving little room for creativity or debate. Some are already trying to strip down science curricula to address this.

Other reasons for the malaise given in individual countries range from the decline in experimental work in science lessons to the decision to bundle chemistry, physics and biology together to be taught as 'science', as well as low pay and poor-quality teaching.

The proposed solutions are equally familiar and often revolve around better 'engaging' young people with science. Typical schemes see postgraduate students visit local schools and participate in science lessons. These are noble attempts, but the lure of a career and ready cash should not be underestimated — increasing numbers of students choose their degrees, and hence their school subjects, with these in mind. How many students chose to become well-paid accountants because they were 'engaged' with that subject?

Nature would be the first to point out that few researchers working in cash-strapped universities are in it for the money. Nevertheless, many graduates do turn their science degrees into decent financial as well as spiritual reward. Are students aware of this? A recent review of the supply of scientists and engineers in Britain suggested not, pointing out that few pupils make a link between what they view as vocational scientific subjects and the possibility of alternative future careers.

This perception needs to be reversed. Scientific societies should do more to highlight those who have used a scientific training as a springboard to lucrative careers outside their discipline. Those giving careers advice in schools must ensure that students see the well-paid opportunities for those with science backgrounds, not just in research but in finance, business — even, dare we say it, the media.