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Toymaker Lego to introduce representations of female scientists

Reporters and editors perceive a boost for women—or, actually, girls—in science.

A reporter at the Los Angeles Times, echoing news outlets worldwide from the BBC to the Hindu, has summarized some recent science-and-society news:

In August, Lego will produce a limited-edition box set called Research Institute, featuring three female scientists in the act of learning more about our world and beyond.

If you buy the set, your little one (or you) can build an astronomer peering into her telescope, a paleontologist using her magnifying glass to examine a dinosaur skeleton, and a chemist mixing solutions in her lab.

(Do you like how many "hers" were in that last sentence? I sure did!)

Research Institute was designed by Ellen Kooijman, a geochemist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, and a self-confessed Adult Fan of Lego.

In a blog posting under her Lego username, Kooijman wrote, “As a female scientist I had noticed two things about the available Lego sets: a skewed male/female minifigure ratio and a rather stereotypical representation of the available female figures.” And indeed Lego’s representations of scientists and of female scientists aren’t entirely new. In the September 2013 Scientific American posting “Breaking brick stereotypes: Lego unveils a female scientist,” Maia Weinstock, who describes herself as a “strong advocate for girls and women,” surveyed STEM-related toy figures from Lego’s past, both male and female.

The Washington Post offered a few words about the STEM sociological context for Lego’s new toys:

Despite comprising nearly half of the U.S. workforce, and 60 percent of bachelor degree recipients, women filled only 24 percent of science, technology, engineering and math jobs in 2009, according to the Department of Commerce.

It’s an acute problem with no easy solution. But many believe that one piece of the puzzle is broadening the dreams and visions of young girls.

A Lego spokeswoman announces the new “female minifigure set” in a three-minute promotional video. “This amazing science-based project,” she says, “is all about exploring the world and beyond. A paleontologist, an astronomer, a chemist, and all their awesome equipment. It's cool, it's stylish, and honestly—who doesn't like dinosaurs?”

Also at Lego, a representation of the set of CBS’s long-running physicist situation comedy The Big Bang Theory is reportedly under consideration.


Steven T. Corneliussen, a media analyst for the American Institute of Physics, monitors three national newspapers, the weeklies Nature and Science, and occasionally other publications. He has published op-eds in the Washington Post and other newspapers, has written for NASA's history program, and is a science writer at a particle-accelerator laboratory.

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