Female Role Models in Science by Dr Jessica Kvansakul

12 September

Opinion piece published in www.growingtallpoppies.com by Dr Jessica Kvansakul

I am passionate about science communication and women in science, so have loved being part of the Growing Tall Poppies Program. I never thought much about the low numbers of girls in my physics classes or the lack of visible female role models as I didn't really notice them, but I know this isn't the case for everyone. I always had some girls in my classes and they were very careful at University to pair us up when working in small groups so it never felt too isolating. Recently, I wanted to write a brief article about someone in the history of optics and decided to choose a woman, but realised that I couldn't think of anyone automatically. It was at this moment that I really noticed the lack of promotion of female role models.

Attending a talk this month by Dava Sobel about her book, 'The Glass Universe', reminded me yet again about the importance of female role models and how they have actually always existed in science, but just aren't as well known. The book is about the women who played a huge role in the early field of astrophysics and is similar to the story of those living female 'computers' involved in the early space program employed by NASA, highlighted by the film 'Hidden Figures'. Both of these show the role that women have played in the history of science, and are an important link when considering science today.

What inspired me to do research in physics was a talk by one of our lecturers about his research looking at the eyes of premature babies and working out safe light-levels for them so as not to damage their vision. It showed me how research in physics can make a direct difference to people. Studying and working in science has allowed me to travel and move halfway around the world, as well as be involved in projects ranging from the intricacies of how light travels in the eye, to looking at artworks with lasers. The amazing work that is being done by scientists every day is truly awe-inspiring and I feel really strongly that this needs to be shared with the general public.

I'm now mostly involved in science education and communication and want to show everyone how wonderful and useful science is, as well as making sure everyone feels that science can be for them if that's where their interest lies. It is great to be part of the Growing Tall Poppies Program to show and reinforce what science and real scientists actually look like and remind the next generation that there are and always have been a number of women involved in scientific fields who have made truly remarkable contributions to our understanding of the world. It is wonderful to think that we are the ones that can inspire someone at the start of their own journey.

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