I’ll admit it: old, staid, black-and-white photos don’t really do it for me. I might take a fleeting academic interest in them, but rarely will the images lodge themselves in my brain like, say, Kim Kardashian’s largely successful — sigh — attempt to break the Internet. Unfortunately, when it comes to visual representations of some of history’s greatest women scientists, grayscale headshots of serious-looking women is pretty much all we have. (Photos of celebrated primatologist Jane Goodall palling around with chimpanzees are a notable exception.)
That’s why I’m very excited about a series of prints by artist Rachel Ignotofsky. Ignotofsky, a Kansas City, Missouri illustrator and graphic designer, has created playful illustrations of renown women scientists like radioactivity research pioneer Marie Curie and DNA double helix discoverer Rosalind Franklin. The women are depicted as wavy, neon-colored cartoon characters surrounded by images and descriptions of their achievements. The illustrations have won raves from Scientific American’s Symbiartic blog, with writer Katie McKissick noting that the scientists are rendered “with minimalism, clean lines, and abstract shapes so that their bodies aren’t so much the focus — their research is.”
Imagine that: Posters of women that don’t emphasize their figures — or even their faces — but rather their smarts. How great would it be if today’s tween girls started hanging this artwork on their walls in addition to their One Direction and Justin Bieber posters? Or how about middle school and high school science teachers? Surely they could find room for some in their classrooms, couldn’t they? I know that as a teen, I would have loved to see a vivid Marie Curie print alongside one of those cliched crazy-haired Einstein posters in my high school physics classroom.
It’s something I’m sure Ignotofsky, who sells the prints through her Etsy shop, would like to see happen, too — and not just because it would boost her bottom line.
“I think illustration is a powerful tool that can inspire creativity and learning. I hope when young women see my art prints it will make them want to learn more about these amazing women and ask questions about the fields that they studied,” she told me in an email. “Having accomplished female role models is important for both boys and girls so they know, without a doubt, that they can learn and choose a profession in any field they desire despite traditional gender roles.”
Can we completely close the science gender gap with a few dazzling pictures? Probably not, but it’s great way to help the young women of today see how bright their futures can truly be.
Rosalind Franklin illustration used with permission. Buy the image and others like it at artist Rachel Ignotofsky’s Etsy shop.