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Celebrating women in STEM

Celebrating women in STEM

by Katie Griffiths, the Young People's Programme Assistant at the British Science Association.


Have you heard of Hedy Lamarr, who developed the concept of frequency-hopping that is behind modern day Bluetooth and wireless technology, but who is better known for her acting ability and beautiful face?

How about Dorothy Hodgkin, the pioneering X-ray crystallographer who discovered the structures of insulin, penicillin and vitamin B12, and changed the face of molecular biology?

Or Sophie Germain, the brilliant female mathematician who contributed to the solving of Fermat’s Last Theorem?

I’m willing to bet that many of you are shaking your heads, and these are just three of many examples of incredible women who have worked towards and achieved important things in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Over the years, female scientists and engineers have been consistently overlooked and under-represented, their names unrecognised, their work uncredited and their achievements uncelebrated.

In society today, there’s an increasing push to reverse this trend and improve the gender balance in STEM careers. We want to encourage women and young girls to get involved in science; we want to engage with them and to get them to consider careers in STEM, because we want the future of science and engineering in the UK to include these brilliant minds. Above all we want to make sure that all women know that science isn’t just for men.

This is becoming incredibly important for our economy - currently the ‘leaky pipeline’ means that the higher up the STEM career ladder you look, the fewer women there are. We’re constantly losing, and wasting, a huge proportion of our STEM talent. And it is a waste - the British Science Association’s CREST Awards programme of 11-18 year olds has a 50:50 gender balance, demonstrating that young girls are just as interested in STEM subjects as boys, yet we’re not harnessing this enthusiasm and interest; we’re letting it dwindle away.

Of course, changing this isn’t going to be an overnight fix, there are hundreds of years of stereotypes to combat and there’s a lot of work going on towards this. However, we can make an important change by highlighting inspirational women scientists and engineers from the past and the present, bringing them into the public awareness and giving them recognition that they have often been denied. We can make sure that the girls and women of today can see and hear the names of female scientists of the past and be inspired.

This year, for International Women’s Day, the British Science Association want to celebrate women in science by renaming one or more of our prestigious Award Lectures after inspirational female scientists, engineers, technicians or mathematicians.  

The British Science Association’s Award Lectures have been rewarding promising young scientists for over 20 years, and many of these are now successful science communicators, including Brian Cox, Richard Wiseman and Maggie Aderin-Pocock.

The Award Lectures aim to promote open and informed discussion on issues involving science, and actively encourage young and early career scientists to explore the social aspects of their research. Awards are available in five different areas:

  • Physical sciences and mathematicscurrently the Lord Kelvin Award
  • Engineering, technology and industry – currently the Isambard Kingdom Brunel Award
  • Environmental sciencescurrently the Charles Lyell Award
  • Agricultural, biological and medical sciences – currently the Charles Darwin Award
  • Social sciencescurrently the Joseph Lister Award

So now, the ball is in your court. We’d love to receive your suggestions of inspirational female scientists, engineers, technicians and mathematicians who have made a huge contribution to their field in the past. Once we’ve got together a shortlist, we’ll hold a public vote to decide the outcome of which women we should name our Award Lectures after.

Let’s join together to celebrate the achievements of women in STEM.

You can view the shortlist and vote here before midday on Tuesday 1 April.

Share your thoughts on Twitter by tweeting to both the hashtag #IWD2014 and us @BritishSciFest. Or leave a comment on our Facebook page.


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