Friday, April 12, 2019

A Look At The Project That’s Bringing Awareness To Female Scientists Through Art

But beyond the image of the two-time Nobel Prize winner bent over glowing rock, almost no stories of female achievement in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields are culturally pervasive. That’s why neuroscientist turned creative director, Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya started Beyond Curie. Initially a kickstarter campaign, Amanda raised over $32,000 for the Association For Women In Science with her kinetic, artful depictions of thirty five relatively unknown female scientists—all pioneers in their fields. Here, we chat with Amanda about why it’s important for women to be encouraged to pursue STEM careers and how the the worlds of science and art overlap more than you might think.
Like many people, after the election I was not feeling great. I wanted to get involved but was feeling overwhelmed by the number of options for how I might contribute my time or money. A friend who had worked on the Hillary campaign gave me some great advice—pick a cause you care deeply about, and support it in a way only you can. Her words led me to develop Beyond Curie, to highlight the rich history of women kicking ass in STEM fields and to show that our world was built by extraordinary women, not just men, of all backgrounds.
I started with women whose stories I personally had been inspired by, like Rita Levi-Montalcini, who I read about in 4th grade. Her story is one of grit, tenacity and creativity. In response to Mussolini’s 1938 ban that barred her and other Jewish people from academic and professional careers, she set up a laboratory in her bedroom and studied the growth of nerve fibers in chicken embryos, which laid the groundwork for her later research and discovery of nerve growth factor. I also wanted to ensure the series was as inclusive as possible, with representation for black, Latina, Asian and indigenous scientists as well as scientists with disabilities. I reached out to my backer community on Kickstarter for help with women to include and they introduced me to some extraordinary scientists I’d never heard of before. Each design is unique, it connects the scientists’ faces with the work they’ve achieved into a unique collage. Each design is a visual story of each scientist’s life. 

We all know Marie Curie because her accomplishments are so difficult to ignore, even in a sea of accomplished male scientists who have dominated the genius label, she stands out. She was not only the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, but also she was the first person ever to win it twice, and the only person to win it in two different sciences. She was a badass, a legend, and one of the greatest scientists to have ever lived. However, when it comes to women in science, the conversation too often starts and stops with her. She is the easy choice when trying to be more inclusive with the addition a female scientist. But it’s important to look beyond Marie Curie and also celebrate all the other extraordinary women who have shaped science and changed the world.  
Certainly much can be learned from studies of visual perception that can provide depth and context for why certain designs work and others fall short. But in the moment, the craft of design, taking into consideration principles such as form, shape, composition, color, not to mention typography and storytelling is incredibly nuanced and takes years of deliberate practice to hone. There is an element of luck, magic and exploration as well. Often studies on visual perception are very controlled because they must be, but in reality, timing, uncontrolled factors and an unquantifiable number of biases can skew our perception of a design. This is why a neuroscientist who studies visual perception isn’t automatically a gifted designer. I’d say that my process from a storytelling perspective is often guided by neuroscience and psychology, and supported by visual craft and careful consideration.

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