— digitalgrip.fieldnotes

Women in Science

The development of an embryo into a full-grown insect is a delicate process and a lot can go wrong on the way. Usually it doesn’t, but when it does, it can open up fascinating new lines of research. This happened to Kristen Panfilio when one of her experiments did absolutely not go as planned. The result were “necrotic zombies”, as she dutifully noted in her lab book. And they keep her busy to this day.



This interview is part of the series “Significant Details – Conversations with Women in Science”, where we talked with twelve female scientists from many different fields about their work and their life in science.

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Just before christmas we finally secured funding for a new project that has been in the making for a very long time. It’s called „Significant Details – Conversations with Women in Science“ and will be a series of video interviews with female scientists. About their career, their daily work, their experiences with science. Very simple, really, but already great fun, certainly for me at this point, because right now I am traveling the country meeting all these amazing people while trying to put together an as varied ensemble of female scientists as possible.




Women are under-represented in science in most countries. Numbers are increasing, but slowly. Last year, a study by Lünenborg and Röser showed, that in Germany female scientists also go strongly under-reported in the media.

Representation in the media is important, though. Not only for the individual scientist, to increase her visibility and reputation, but, much more, for the rest of us, because it helps us, as a society, to adjust our perception of how science is done and who is doing it.

As Lünenborg and Röser point out: media representation is especially relevant with regard to leadership positions, in science and elsewhere, because most people have no or very little personal experience with these. So their opinion is formed mostly through the media. And one of the prevailing opinions about scientists is that they are male. Which somehow sticks in our heads, male and female alike, with all its undesired consequences.


The seed for this project was planted almost four years ago when I visited Science Online in North Carolina for the first time, a vibrant, dynamic and hugely original meeting of scientists, communicators, journalists, librarians, artists and many more, all related to science and the online world in one way or another.

At the time, I was still mostly working for television and had just begun to make my first careful steps into the world of online science communication. The newspaper crisis then was still in its early stages and the iPad little more than a rumour for most. Podcasts, however, had been around for a while and been used for science communication quite successfully. Microbes’s World Meet the Scientist with Carl Zimmer, Coast to Coast Bio Podcast (now closed), and Point of Inquiry are some of the earliest I remember. At Science Online they appeared as a given, a highly efficient tool in any science communicator’s box.

They were all audio, though, which I, as a filmmaker, always found a little sad. But I was immediately taken by their informal, direct and authentic way of talking to scientists and about science.

Back in Germany, it took me a while and some detours, and I am really glad that I now have an opportunity not only to add some video to the podcast world, but also to help increase the visibility of women in science.

All interviews will start from a specific object, a „significant detail“ from the women’s scientific life. They can be scientific objects or something completely off-topic that is related to science only by the women’s experience. From there, each conversation will take its individual course. No standardized questions, but a number of common themes, most likely. Fairly personal in tone, more portrait than presentation, more process than breakthroughs.

Finding the objects can be a bit tricky, but it seems worth the effort. So far, we have a bag of hazelnuts, a wisdom tooth, a musical clock playing „La Paloma“ and a vacuum coated Edelweiss. And a bag of good stories to go with them. You’ll see.



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Easily one of the most beautiful science books (if that’s what it is) ever!

Maria Popova at BrainPickings describes it much better than I ever could (also, she has more pictures and a video!):

In this cross-disciplinary gem, artist Lauren Redniss tells the story of Marie Curie — one of the most extraordinary figures in the history of science, a pioneer in researching radioactivity, a field the very name for which she coined, and not only the first woman to win a Nobel Prize but also the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, and in two different sciences — through the two invisible but immensely powerful forces that guided her life: radioactivity and love. It’s remarkable feat of thoughtful design and creative vision. To honor Curie’s spirit and legacy, Redniss rendered her poetic artwork in cyanotype, an early-20th-century image printing process critical to the discovery of both X-rays and radioactivity itself — a cameraless photographic technique in which paper is coated with light-sensitive chemicals. Once exposed to the sun’s UV rays, this chemically-treated paper turns a deep shade of blue…

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From the wonderful CreatorsProject-Blog: These Wiggling GIFs Have Got Us Seeing 3D (and there is more…)
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Clearly, Ada Lovelace is one of the most remarkable women in science. And this comic by Sydney Padua is one of the most delightful accounts of her life I have come across so far (now also available as free iPad-app):


It was originally drawn for Ada Lovelace Day, an event that…

 …aims to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths by encouraging people around the world to talk about the women whose work they admire. This international day of celebration helps people learn about the achievements of women in STEM, inspiring others and creating new role models for young and old alike.

The inspiration for Ada Lovelace Day came from psychologist Penelope Lockwood, who carried out a study which found that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male role models. “Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success,” she said, “illustrating the kinds of achievements that are possible for women around them. They demonstrate that it is possible to overcome traditional gender barriers, indicating to other women that high levels of success are indeed attainable.”


For more on Ada I recommend Janet Stemwedel’s post at Doing Good Science on Ada Lovelace and the Luddites, where – after making many other interesting connections – she writes on the activity of programming:

That this activity got its start with the technically minded daughter of the romantic poet who defended the Luddites somehow strikes me as exactly right.

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