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It is an unfortunate reality that women are underrepresented in the sciences. This inequitable representation has not, however, deterred some female scientists from working above and beyond barriers to advance their fields. A few outstanding women who did are the heroes of Evanston author Laurie Lawlor’s most recent book for 8-12-year-olds, “Super Women: Six Scientists Who Changed the World.”
“Imagine being a highly trained astronomer who’s forbidden to look through a state-of-the-art telescope or an accomplished underwater cartographer who’s not allowed to sail on research ships. Imagine graduating with honors in chemistry but being told you’re ‘too distracting,’ to work in the research laboratory,” she writes in the introduction.
Ms. Lawlor chose to write about pioneering women in six different scientific fields: zoologist Eugenie “Genie”Clark; biochemist Gertrude Elion; mathema-tician Katherine Coleman Johnson; marine biologist Marie Tharp; archaeologist Florence Haw-
ley Ellis; and astronomer Margaret Burbidge.
Each woman experienced some form of prejudice while pursuing her scientific career.
Despite their setbacks, these women worked diligently to fur-ther scientific discovery.
Ms. Lawlor says her most powerful motivation for writing about this topic is her two granddaughters. Though still young (just 3 and 8), they seem to have an interest in science that Ms. Lawlor finds wonderful. One of Ms. Lawlor’s goals in writing the book was to highlight the underrepresentation of women in science. But she also wanted to show that through diligence, success is possible.
This underrepresentation is one facet of larger societal issues in need of systemic remedies, but Ms.Lawlor believes that, for now, mentorship is what young women need to succeed in the sciences. In fact, one of the reasons she focused on these particular scientists was their commitment to guiding aspiring women scientists.
Ms. Lawlor chose women scientists with a range of experiences and backgrounds. This was especially interesting given the period in which these scientists worked. Ms. Lawlor notes that most of these women gained traction during and after the Second World War – a unique time when the number of men in battle created a surge of opportunities for women. Ms. Lawlor notes that having some luck on their side does not undermine the brilliance of their achievements.
What struck Ms. Lawlor most about the six scientists was their resilience. “How do you handle the moments when you think everything is okay and then it is not,” the author asked when reading the stories of each scientist. They were denied access to certain scientific resources while in college and endured the trivialization of their abilities.
While it exposes the history of underrepresentation of women in the sciences, Ms. Lawlor’s book also trumpets their monumental achievements. The book is a call for young women to push forward in the things they love. Though it may be difficult, Ms. Lawlor’s book shows it is possible.