Women of NASA – in LEGO!


Credit: Maia Weinstock, LEGO Ideas

If you have followed my blog for even the shortest period of time, you might of heard me ramble on about the issues with gendered toys and how these can affect how children interact with science.

Toys are heavily gendered and are marketing to boys and girls – ultimately separating the types of toys that girls and boys are likely to play with. Boys are significantly more likely to own toys which involve building or problem solving, whereas girls are significantly more likely to own toys which are related to fashion, beauty or homemaking.

Science toys are often also gendered, with the science toys for girls often revolving around beauty or make up, rather than the traditional chemistry or physics sets which are marketed towards young boys. How great would it be if a large toy chain would make a science toy which featured female scientists? Well – it could be on the horizon.

A set of unique LEGO figurines had been submitted to LEGO Ideas to be potentially be made into actual toys, and I am very excited about them. Maia Weinstock submitted her plan for a set of LEGO figures which would feature five notable NASA pioneers, helping to educate adults and kids about women in STEM history.

The sets would feature:

Margaret Hamilton, computer scientist: While working at MIT under contract with NASA in the 1960s, Hamilton developed the on-board flight software for the Apollo missions to the moon. She is known for popularizing the modern concept of software.

Katherine Johnson, mathematician and space scientist: A longtime NASA researcher, Johnson is best known for calculating and verifying trajectories for the Mercury and Apollo programs — including the Apollo 11 mission that first landed humans on the moon.

Sally Ride, astronaut, physicist, and educator: A physicist by training, Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983. After retiring as a NASA astronaut, she founded an educational company focusing on encouraging children — especially girls — to pursue the sciences.

Nancy Grace Roman, astronomer: One of the first female executives at NASA, Roman is known to many as the “Mother of Hubble” for her role in planning the Hubble Space Telescope. She also developed NASA’s astronomy research program.

Mae Jemison, astronaut, physician, and entrepreneur: Trained as a medical doctor, Jemison became the first African-American woman in space in 1992. After retiring from NASA, Jemison established a company that develops new technologies and encourages students in the sciences.

It would be fantastic be to have a set of toys which promote science to girls, depict amazing women in STEM and promote the history of women in science (who are often forgotten) – let alone those toys to be made by one of the most famous toy companies in the world.

If you want to see these sets made, you need to vote for them! Vote for them here.


‘Beyond Space’ and back again


I had two things to look forward to in Paris on Wednesday July 6, Wales played in the semi finals of the EUROs and I gave a lecture at the European Space Agency.

The ESA are hosting a lecture series which aims to open up the world of their staff to themes beyond their daily work. Each lecture looks at different topics, such as economics, biology or even talks from explorers of the world’s poles!

My lecture in the ‘Beyond Space’ series talked about (surprise, surprise) the lack of women in STEM; looking at the causes of the loss of women from the industry and what the ESA staff could do to contribute to the movement.

The representation of women at the ESA is fairly typical in the STEM industries, with a pretty low number of women making up employees and very few women making up the higher pay-grade roles.

Staff from different departments and backgrounds came to the lecture, and in the discussion afterwards it highlighted the importance of everyone working towards the same goal. In any organisation, it is as vital that personnel in the recruitment process involve themselves in the conversation about women in STEM as much as the scientists and engineers.


The ESA has done some great work to help address the issue of the lack of women in STEM, such as hosting an annual GirlsDay. The event gives girls the opportunity to see what technology and space are all about; This  was definitely reflected in the staff’s attitude to my talk.

As much as I would love to talk about women in STEM and be greeted with a positive reception, unfortunately this is often not the case. When talking about any women’s issue, whether that be society-wide or industry specific, there is often a backlash or you are met with people blocking their ears.

But the staff at the ESA were incredibly enthusiastic about the topic and eager to get involved – nothing could be better than a multi-national organisation like the European Space Agency weighing in on the discourse!

My lecture covered a range of topics – focusing on the unconscious or more subtle forms of sexism which hold back women and girls in STEM (such as Stereotype Threat and Science Capital). As well as showing some examples of the good and bad campaigns which have tried to encourage young girls into science.

The only way we can start making a difference is if we get as many people to chip-in as possible, from all departments and all rungs of the ladder. I really look forward to see what the ESA does next in terms of aiding more girls to STEM and I am excited to see how the staff react and get involved.

(On a another note, Wales lost in the semi-finals and I flew back from Paris surrounded by very proud, yet melancholy, Welsh people)