[Image above] Minifigures of five NASA pioneers—from left to right, Margaret Hamilton, Katherine Johnson, Sally Ride, Nancy Grace Roman, and Mae Jemison—will appear in an official LEGO set originally designed by MIT staff member Maia Weinstock. Credit: Maia Weinstock
Women of NASA will be coming to a LEGO store near you.
The Women of NASA LEGO Ideas concept set that debuted last year has gained enough fan support and passed LEGO board scrutiny to become an official LEGO set.
The set features five out of a pool of many women who have made extraordinary contributions to NASA’s missions. Maia Weinstock, deputy editor of MIT News, created the set and noted in the original LEGO Ideas page that around 75 women have trained and/or flown in space.
Weinstock choose just five of the women to represent the diversity of their achievements, in addition to personal diversity in cultural background and age.
So who made the cut?
According to an MIT News story, “The set depicts five trailblazers in NASA’s history: Margaret Hamilton, a computer scientist who led the development of software for the Apollo missions while at MIT; Mae Jemison, who became the first African-American woman in space in 1992; Katherine Johnson, known for calculating and verifying trajectories for the Mercury and Apollo programs; Sally Ride, who became the first American woman in space in 1983; and astronomer Nancy Grace Roman, one of the first female executives at NASA, who was instrumental in the planning of the Hubble Space Telescope.”
While LEGOs are a popular pastime with all ages, this set isn’t just about fun and games—Weinstock had an important goal in mind when she created the Women of NASA set.
“I hope that ‘Women of NASA’ will be one little extra brick in the wall of trying to improve how women are perceived and shown in books, toys, and family programming,” Weinstock says in the MIT News story. “Anything I can do to help make sure girls understand that they can and should be interested in the sciences, engineering, and math, that is my goal. At the end of the day, that’s why I am doing this.”
That’s also part of the inspiration behind International Women’s Day, which just took place on March 8. Because despite the progress that has been made, women around the world still often have to struggle for an opportunity to study, enter, and move forward in science.
Want the numbers? Nature has interactive figures that let you explore global gender disparities in science in a recent bibliometrics article.
Despite the fact that there’s still work to do, some countries are setting examples. For instance, France’s Center for Scientific Research has been at the forefront of efforts to initiate cultural changes via gender action plans and progress evaluations, according to a story from Science Magazine.
Initiatives that recognize the scientific contributions of women can help shift cultural perceptions. And efforts to help establish women as role models—perhaps by treating female scientists like Millie Dresselhaus as celebrities—can help younger generations realize their scientific potential, regardless of gender.
And LEGO sets are a great way to help broaden that cultural exposure early on.
“One major goal for me is to get the public to recognize the history of women in the STEM fields. I’m hopeful that with this set more people will come to know these women,” Weinstock says in the MIT News story. “Part of it is knowing these specific five women, but also part of it is setting an example. It’s really important to set an example for girls, as well as for boys, to normalize and make plain that women are expected to be in these fields and that it’s not strange or unusual.”
LEGO says it’s still working on final product design, pricing, and availability of the Women of NASA set and encourages fans to check back on the LEGO Ideas site in late 2017 or early 2018.
By the way, the International Women’s Day celebration sparked Wiley, ACerS publishing partner, to create a larger event to celebrate and encourage gender equity in research with their Women in Research Travel Grant Competition. Wiley will award $2,000 USD to the winning researcher to attend a conference. The contest only requires a statement of 150 words responding to this prompt:
Though some research fields are nearing gender parity, there is still a long way to go in confronting gender bias and empowering women in science and research fields. What challenges of inclusion do you see in the science or research community? How are you involved in efforts to improve diversity and gender equality?
The winner will be selected by a panel of judges, which includes ACerS Bulletin editor, Eileen De Guire.
For more information, visit Wiley.