UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2016


Nominations tweeted by @SG_Science

The United Nations designated 11th February the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. We joined with our colleagues all over the world via social media to celebrate, invited you to join in…and my word, you did!

The hashtag associated with this initiative, #womeninSTEM, was trending as the second most popular topic on Twitter for most of 11th and 12th February and was used in over 85,000 tweets during this period.

In particular, we invited you to name your favourite female scientist, ideally using a photo with your nomination on a poster template kindly provided for us by our friends at the Institute of Physics. The need to highlight individual women who have contributed significantly to their chosen fields was highlighted early in the discussion by Rebecca Williams (@sketty_massive) who told us:

11 year-old daughter has to do presentation on famous scientist, apart from Curie all other choices are dead white men.

11 year-old wanted to do homework presentation on Maggie Aderin-Pocock or Jane Goodall. Told Newton or Einstein would be “better”.

Those identified as ‘famous’ for their scientific achievements are still, mostly, dead white men. By contrast, the achievements of women are often ignored or considered less significant. The naming of favourite female scientists on 11th February was an opportunity to counter that attitude and all the unhelpful messages it sends to girls like Rebecca’s daughter.

In seeking the names of female scientists who had become your ‘favourite’, we were effectively asking for those who had earned your admiration for their achievements. There were some more familiar names, of women many would consider legends: Marie Curie, Lise Meitner, Hedy Lamarr, Margaret Hamilton, Ada Lovelace, Rachel Carson, Marie Tharp, Rosalind Franklin, Jane Goodall, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Mary Somerville, Emmy Noether, Mae Jemison, Sally Ride, Helen Sharman, Caroline Herschel, Maria Goppert-Mayer, Daphne Jackson. If you don’t know who these women are, go search the internet for them now. We’re convinced women like these should be household names, and feature in school science lessons and homework assignments.

We also received wonderful selections from groups, a long list of women (famous and less-so) who you found personally inspiring, and notifications of several blogs prepared for the day. Dr Sarah Hughes, the lead for our Aberdeen chapter (@sciencequines) and the driving force behind our facebook, has pulled together a summary of our favourite tweets from the day in this fabulous Storify.

In conclusion, physicist Helen Czerski (@helenczerski) remarked:

Best thing for the Women and Girls in Science day is that the gravitational wave announcement was made by two senior women and two men.

Amen to that. We can’t promise that scale of scientific breakthrough every 11th February, but we’d certainly like to make this celebration of women’s contributions to science, technology, engineering and maths an annual event. Please join us again in 2017.