Women Scientists: past, present and future

Francisco Vega Narváez

The number of women that enroll in science, maths, engineering or technology as undergraduates is quite low. Even in some informatics modules there are no women or there are few of them [1]. Why do we observe this trend? Actually, it is quite difficult to find a specific answer. One of the possible reasons for that scenario is the lack of women as role models in the scientific world [2]. This does not mean that they are non existent, but just that the way society works nowadays needs to “see” something so it “can exist”, and therefore it is quite difficult to follow an example of something if it has not been previously introduced to the society. Consequently, Women: past, present and future was born so it could better show the role of women in science throughout history.

Figure 1. Poster used to promote the play. Photo credit: Raúl Romera Morilla.

“Women: past, present and future” is a play where five professors and researchers at Sevilla University play the role of five women researchers that lived some time ago (the “past”). Subsequently, they introduce themselves as researchers in the present. These five professors, Isabel Fernández Delgado, Clara Grima Ruiz, MªJosé Jiménez Rodríguez (department of Applied Mathematics I), Adela Muñoz Páez (department of Inorganic Chemistry), and Mari Carmen Romero Ternero (department of Electronic Technology), together with myself, Francisco Vega Narváez (Senior Laboratory Technician at the department of Applied Physics I); are P5C. Asociación para la visibilidad de la mujer en la Ciencia, la Ingeniería y la Tecnología’.

Our main goal is to spread two basic ideas: no women should think that something does not belong them because of them being women and that the history is full of examples of important women in science. To better explain these ideas, I thought that the women in the play should be researchers instead of professional actors.

Inspired by a set of conferences entitled ‘Mujeres a ciencia cierta’, in September 2015 I started to think about the best way to show a young audience that the stereotipe “person in science = man” is simply this, a stereotipe, and that this could not be further from the truth in real life. My idea was to use monologues to tell the story of women researchers in an interesting and engaging manner.

To develop this project, I looked for five women researchers interested in scientific outreach who could find some time to learn the paly script, rehearse, and be comfortable playing the role of important women in science in front of 400 children — and they had to keep with their research and lectures at the same time!

The women scientists from the past that appear in the play are Hipatia de Alejandría (regarded as the first women scientist of the history), Ada Lovelace (first women scientist who wrote a computing program), Marie Curie (awarded with two Nobel prizes), Rosalind Franklin (first person to detail the DNA structure), and Hedy Lamarr (developer of wireless communication in a broad spectrum).

Figure 2. Past and present presente, MUNCYT de Alcobendas, June 2016. Photo credit: Rafael Martínez Ramón, @rafasith.

This play has been mainly performed at Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingeniería Informática at the Seville University, where the number of enrolled women is very low [1]. We have also performed at other univeristies, museums, and theatres.

Nevertheless, there are many places that cannot attend our performance because they are either far away from Seville (or from other places we have been) or the tickets have been sold out.

Mari Carmen Romero, our Ada Lovelace, had the good idea of recording the play as a resource that can be used at schools and universities to better understand the role of women in science throughout history. We also created a guide for teachers and lecturers that goes with the movie. Thanks to the financial support of La Unidad para la Igualdad de la Universidad de Sevilla ant the wonderful work carried out by Remedios Malvárez and her team Producciones Singulares, Científicas en corto was released in April 2019.

Figure 3. Cover used for Women Scientists: past, present and future. The comic. Photo credit: Raquel Gu, @RaquelberryFinn.

This project has been a non-stop journey for us thanks to which we have also been constantly learning and discovering wonderful women in science. We have also had the incredible opportunity to share this knowledge with several primary and high schools and their teachers. Our team always tries to find new ways to reach those students who cannot attend the plays. Therefore, Mª Carmen Escámez from Secretariado de Promoción de la Investigación y Cultura Científica de la Universidad de Sevilla suggested that we could have a comic version of the play so we could follow our aim to reach a bigger audience. Subsequently, we adapten the script to a narrative and we were very lucky to have Raquel Gu with us, a wonderful graphic illustrator whose work to design the comic illustrations was incredible. In January 2020, we released the comic in Spanish and, from then onwards, it has received good critics and has been downloaded more than 80,000 times.

At last, the 27th of November 2020, during the event Noche de los investigadores, we were proud to present the English version of the comic Women Scientists: past, present and future. With this version, we aim to reach as many educational around the world as possible. Tim Gutteridge has translated the Spanish version into English, making it possible to keep it as fresh as the original text.

And this is the end of the story of the growth of our little idea. As you can see, I have told you the past and the present of our project but… what about the future? The future are all the children that will have the opportunity to meet incredible women in science, who will come to our plays, who will read our comic and, in essence, who will be interested by how science can make this world a better place to live.

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By Francisco Manuel Vega Narváez (@vegapaco1), Senior Laboratory Technician, department of Applied Physics I, Seville University.

More information:

  1. Statistics from the Seville University (2019-2020).
  2. Social perception of science and technology (2018).
  3. Project website. Científicas: pasado, present y futuro.
  4. First play (summary and interviews) at Unidad de Cultura Científica de la Universidad de Sevilla, March 2016.
  5. Website: mujeresconciencia.
  6. Press release by Clara Grima: Científicas: pasado, presente y futuro.
  7. Press release by Adela Muñoz: Día Internacional de la mujer y la niña en ciencia.
  8. Video: Historias de luz.
  9. Video (from minute 14): Lab24-RTVE.
  10. Play at Valencia Universitya.
  11. Play at Navarra University.
  12. Play at Granada University.
  13. Play at Jaén University.
  14. Play at Pablo de Olavidae University.
  15. Play at MUNCYT (A Coruña and Alcobendas).
  16. Website: EDUCACIÓN 3.0.
  17. Award [email protected] 2017.
  18. Award – Scientific Outreach 2018, awarded by Seville University.
  19. Award Meridiana 2020, awarded by Junta de Andalucía. @IgualdadAND.
  20. Awrad Meridiana 2020, awarded by Junta de Andalucía. Canal Sur.
  21. Mención Premios Pioneras 2020, by Colegio Oficial de Ingenieros de Telecomunicaciones.
  22. Award – International Contest 2018 Ciencia en Acción.
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