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Hindi Kornbluth

The Cooper Union For The Advancement of Science and Art

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Will making rockstars out of women in science get more girls interested in science/technology/engineering/math (i.e. STEM) fields?

This week in my bioelectricity class, my classmates and I realized that this was the first engineering class any of us had ever taken where there were more women than men enrolled. We also realized that for most of us, this class, taught by TED fellow Nina Tandon, was the first engineering class we had taken to be taught by a female professor.

Finding ways to close the gender gap in science/technology/engineering/math (i.e. STEM) fields is a hot topic, and there are many discussions out there highlighting the many forces that could be at work: gender-biasing in toys, a culture that tends to oversexualize women (see: the “40 Hottest Women in Tech” list published by Complex Magazine earlier this year), or links between a society’s gender equality and female performance in the sciences. Particularly interesting is the recent finding that 15-year-old girls around the world outperform boys in science, but not in the US, Britain, and Canada.

Thinking back to Nina’s class, I wondered if we could use this class as a microcosm and ask, might we be able to get more interested in STEM fields by providing more female role models?

The potential role models are out there: women from history, like Ada Lovelace, arguably the world’s first computer programmer, and Rosalind Franklin, who discovered the structure of DNA. There’s Lise Meitner, who helped discover nuclear fission, and Emelie Du Chatelet, who predicted the existence of infrared radiation and proved that kinetic energy was proportional to v^2. For more modern inspirations, see: http://blog.ted.com/2012/07/03/more-than-75-tedtalks-showing-women-in-science-and-tech/

In 2009, the NSF reported that than 20% of engineering students were women, out of almost 500,000 students in total. Inspiring young women to go into engineering in equal numbers to men would translate to the education of another 300,000 engineers in the United States alone. How do we make this happen?


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    Apr 12 2013: Fetal brain development IS hard science. But it is also about babies, cute cuddly babies you can hug and care for like dolls. Why can't we study the mathematics of beauty? Or hair tension, or the chemistry of food? Much of the movement to include girls in science are not sensitive to what MOST girls are naturally interested in. Some girls who grow up with boys, tend to have boyish interests just because they want to belong. I find that the same phenomenon is happening in science. Women have to be man-like to be considered scientists. They don't have to be. They can be totally girly and still be absolutely capable of hard science on things mostly ignored by male scientists.
    True feminism is embracing the feminine and being totally okay. In the sciences, there are many unexplored areas that need further scientific inquiry just because the male counterparts are focused on things that go. Science is a method that can be applied to anything observable. If I decide to make a science experiment on girl bonding by measuring the rate of blinks versus girl and boy bonding, that is still science if I follow the scientific method and the experiments can be replicated and confirmed by other scientists.
    Human consciousness can expand in all directions. To limit pushing sciences to girls by saying, yes you too can build a rocket ship, when most girls find collecting seashells more fascinating is not really doing it. How about we show how the beauty of nature is a mathematical phenomenon, how about teaching them about fractals applied to pretty things? The point is to look at the interest of young girls (and definitely a majority will be into pretty things, pretty faces and friends...) and showing how that can benefit from a scientific perspective too. Girls ask for dolls. If they've never held one, they wouldn't ask for it. But I've seen a girl think she was boyish until she saw her first monster high doll. She was transfixed and wouldn't let it go.

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