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Heroines of STEM: Time for Some Flag Waving?

23/04/2014 13:31 BST | Updated 21/06/2014 10:59 BST

My daughter recently had to do a project for her science home work. She was making a board game that involved great scientists. Of course there was Einstein, Peter Higgs, Dmitri Mendeleev, Euclid, Joseph Black, Jan Van Helmont, Galileo, Schrödinger (and his cat)... Only the cat wasn't male. And that was because it was a theoretical cat.

Another time my husband and I had one of those late night wine-fuelled debates (we have those a lot). What would we have called our youngest child if we'd had a girl instead of a boy?

I liked the idea naming our imaginary girl-baby after a woman who'd changed the world of science, advanced our understanding of the world we occupy. We ran aground soon after Ada (Lovelace) and Marie (Curie). That speaks of my ignorance too, frankly.

But I know, I KNOW that there are plenty of women out there doing brilliant work now, and building on a bedrock of brilliant work already done by other men and women. There are women working alone in the fields of STEM, and as part of teams with and without male colleagues. Yes, there are plenty of unsung male heroes too but there isn't a dearth of capable young men moving into STEM careers and taking STEM courses.

I asked one of our writers, Tamsin Oxford to put together a list of game changing females, our 'heroines of STEM'. Firstly, there were plenty of fantastic role models to choose from, which is great. Whittling it down was hard. But I'd not seen many of them in the press and they weren't household names like some of their male counterparts, which is not great.

The first in our Heroines of STEM series is Adriana Ocampo. Tamsin writes:

"Ocampo has made this her life's work and is a brilliant example of a female brain at work. Her list of achievements doesn't end at the Chicxulub Impact Crater, she has worked at NASA since she was 21, has a Bachelor of Science in Geology, a Master of Science in Planetary Geology and even took a turn as the programme executive at the European Space Agency."

She worked on the Galileo project, the New Horizons Mission to Pluto and the Juno Mission to Jupiter and is the lead scientist on the European Space Agency's Venus Express mission, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Venus Climate Orbiter and NASA's Venus exploration group.

"Adriana Ocampo is not a pink little scientist doll trotted out to make women happy about careers in science. She's a vivacious, intelligent and curious person who took her passion for the stars and made it into a reality."

The second heroine is Danica McKellar. "Most of you probably remember a hit TV show from way back when called The Wonder Years. What you may not know is that the young girl who played the role of Winnie Cooper, the love interest, is the owner of a very big brain and the author of not one, but three New York Times bestsellers for girls called: Math Doesn't Suck, Kiss My Math and Hot X: Algebra Exposed and her more recent title: Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape."

She didn't just write some maths books though, while at UCLA she co-authored a scientific paper with Professor Lincoln Chayes and a fellow student, Brandy Winn, and developed the Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem.

Read more about Adriana Ocampo

Read more about Danica McKellar