A year ago the European Union launched a campaign to attract more young women into the scientific professions. In Europe, women lag behind men in science and engineering, making up only a third of science researchers. But the video the EU made was laughable.
You may recall. It was called, Science: It’s a Girl Thing! and featured three young fashionistas parading around in high heels while a male scientist peers quizzically at them over his microscope.
Along comes science journalist Kerstin Hoppenhaus to set the record straight. Hoppenhaus’s new series for the German science site SciLogs is called Significant Details: Conversations with Women in Science. The interviews are fresh, informative, and accessible.
It’s inspiring to see such a range of women explain their research and walk us through their process for doing it.
A recent interview featured Dr. Kristen Panfilio (above), an American biologist on faculty at the University of Cologne. Panfilio’s work focuses on insect extraembryonic development, which means she studies how insect tissues develop into the bug’s ultimate shape by comparing the process in two insects: the milkweed bug and the red flour beetle.
Each conversation begins with a “significant detail” of the woman’s work. With the wry humor and precision of a true scientist, Panfilio demonstrates how she prepares her favorite tool, a glass stick, by softening the end with a cigarette lighter.
Panfilio’s specific field is evolutionary developmental genetics. Along with her lab assistants she studies how embryonic cells know what role they should play in forming a specific organism shape. How does a bone cell know it’s a bone cell?
The interview is about as much like Science: It’s a Girl Thing! as Meryl Streep is like Lindsay Lohan. This is a real person talking about how she has built her career (she wanted to be an artist when she was a teenager and studied ancient Chinese history at a small liberal arts college) and explaining her highly specialized work.
She also touches on one of the most wonderful things about scientific research: Some of the most exciting moments are when the results don’t align at all with expectations.
Best of all, it’s just one of the wonderful interviews in Hoppenhaus’s series.