Normally, I hate TV commercials.
I will mute, fast forward, change channels, get a snack, or pay for premium cable to avoid them. But once in a while, I get hooked: Subaru’s dog-centric vignettes, Dignity Health’s crib-crashing, fussy-baby-soothing dad, and best of all, GE’s “What If We Treated Great Female Scientists Like They Were Stars?”
I love this ad. The imagined female celebrity scientist is Millie Dresselhaus, the very real former MIT professor and researcher known to science as the “Queen of Carbon,” and the most adorable little old lady since Helen Hayes. In this Madison Avenue fantasy, young women and little girls the world over want to know her, want to be her. If only.
This scenario should be as real as Millie, the child of dirt-poor immigrants, who fought to get a good education, became a Fulbright scholar and took the advice of another brilliant woman to be something other than the nurse or teacher then considered “proper” for young ladies; who instead, became a scientist and researcher who published books and hundreds of cutting-edge papers about the hidden potentials of common carbon, and an advocate for young women in science — one who actually donated the $1 million award for winning a prestigious prize to help girls pursue STEM educations.
But the only way to turn TV make-believe to reality is to educate and inspire girls. Stories of trailblazing female mathematicians, inventors, scientists and engineers can provide that spark. There are scores of fine individual biographies available, even at the picture book level. For names and recommendations, consult your favorite librarian or bookseller.
For older girls, ages 10 and up, who have some basic science knowledge and may be starting to focus their interests and career possibilities, here is a brief list of “women in science” biographical collections that let girls dive into the challenging, rewarding world of female STEM participants.
Each title contains a number of jaw-dropping, short, illustrated bios that highlight the frustrations and obstacles that have faced pioneering (as well as recent) women scientists, along with their remarkable successes.
“Women In Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World,” by Rachel Ignotofsky. An enthusiastic, encouraging introduction to fascinating women scientists featuring sweet, quirky artwork.
“Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women,” by Catherine Thimmesh. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. The mother of invention is … Necessity. Of course! Women have been practical problem solvers since the stone age. Meet some of Necessity’s daughters in this fun read.
“Magnificent Minds: 16 Pioneering Women in Science and Medicine” and “Remarkable Minds: 16 More Pioneering Women in Science and Medicine,” by Pendred E. Noyce. Written by a female physician who covers 400 years of women’s tribulations and achievements worldwide with insight, compassion, and a little fire.
“The Illustrated Women In Science: Year One” and “The Illustrated Women In Science: Year Two,” by Dale DeBakcsy. Goofy cartoons illustrate the short essays, 26 in each volume, which get into serious explanations of each subject’s science. Millie Dresselhaus is the first profile in “Year Two.”