On June 21, the European Commission (the European Union’s executive body) released a video called “Science: It’s A Girl Thing” as part of a new initiative to attract girls to science and technology careers. In the video, female “scientists” parade around in high heels. On the website for the campaign, a tube of lipstick features prominently.
The backlash was as harsh as it was expected: the Huffington Post called it “the most unintentionally sexist PSA ever”; MSNBC called it “not a good thing”; and Wired rounded up many more appalled reactions.
Over the past few years, attempts to steer girls into careers in the sciences have proliferated. That effort could probably use some livening — an idea that the team behind this video got right. Where they were so, so wrong was in thinking that gratuitous imagery of pink lipstick and models wearing lab glasses and high heels would do the trick.
But instead of sexualizing science in the most cliché way, why not focus on women already accomplishing amazing things in science? The same female leaders in the fields of science and technology are used over and over again to inspire young women — if we’re talking about the past, it’s Marie Curie; if we’re talking about modern times, it’s Sheryl Sandberg. They’re both fantastic — and heralded for good reason — but we could add a lot more women to the conversation.
Here are six of them:
1. Fabiola Gianotti
Gianotti, age 50, is the head physicist working on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. She leads a group of 3,000 particle physicists who work on what is arguably the world’s most complex and impressive piece of technology, the Large Hadron Collider at Cern European Laboratory for Particle Physics.
2. Naama Geva-Zatorsky
Geva Zatorsky, age 34, won the International UNESCO L’Oreal Prize for Women in Science, for which she received a $40,000 fellowship to study at Harvard. The Israeli biologist studies how probiotics can be used to fight life-threatening diseases.
3. Molly Stevens
Stevens’ biomedical company, RepRegen, is working on ways to regenerate damaged bone and muscle tissue. She’s won a ton of awards and been named to pretty much every “top scientists under 40” list in the U.K..
4. Wanda Austin
Austin is the CEO of The Aerospace Corporation, a leading company in designing space programs related to national security.
5. Laura Deming
Deming, now 18, enrolled in MIT at age 14. But she dropped out last year to take part in Peter Thiel’s fellowship program, which gives students $100,000 to drop out of college and pursue a research project. Ironically, she’s working on anti-aging research, and researching the genes that control aging.
6. Elena Aprile
Aprile, who works at Columbia University, studies Dark Matter. She leads a large team that “uses liquid xenon (LXe) to detect and image radiation from a variety of physics phenomena in astrophysics and particle physics.” Her book on liquid xenon is frequently cited by top physicists.