To all the science GeekMoms out there—it’s time to celebrate our own UN International Day! And if there is anything geeky pop culture has taught me, it’s that science queens are going to take over the world. Real-life role models are important because they show our kids what is happening right now, but it’s Pop Culture that gives our kids ideas of what they can do in the future!
So we’ve come up with 13 of the Greatest Fictional Female Scientists in Geeky Pop Culture to celebrate International Day for Women and Girls in Science. (That’s quite a mouthful. I know. We’re working on it.)
In no order of preference of course, but please feel free to fight amongst yourselves in the comments. I’m always open to suggestion…
- Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) – Ghostbusters (2016)
Now I am totally in agreement: we should nominate the whole team but Abby Yates has the Lego Dimensions character. I can hold her in my hand! Proton pack and everything! And while my eccentric side resonates with Jillian Holtzmann, I do believe Yates personifies a lot of the battles many women in science have faced. Yates has stayed true to her work from beginning to end. She faced her challenges head-on and worked out ways around them. Even her LEGO character shows the grit required to make it in this field.
- Dr. Pamela Isley (AKA Poison Ivy)
An amazing botanist, with a PhD and promising career, Pamela Isley personified the dedication of any scientist. Unfortunately, she was distracted by the seduction of another, leading to her ultimate transformation into the villain Poison Ivy. So many people focus on the sexy and forget about the smart. Like, SUPER smart. BEFORE the transformation. Sure, she focuses all of that intelligence into her botany, but that leads to a whole range of ethical questions comparing eco-terrorism and eco-activism. And let’s face it: the environment is in desperate need of a helping hand. She’s as crazy as a cactus in the hot desert sun, but Ivy really is an inspiration for the next generation of botanists.
- Dr. Barbara “Bobbi” Morse (AKA Mockingbird)
The latest Mockingbird series was the perfect setting for showing a brilliant woman in the area of science. Chelsea Cain (writer) created a beautifully detailed world, building all the elements that create the multi-faceted Mockingbird. As readers, we have a glimpse of Bobbi’s early days: what she saw as a child and how she became a scientist. Most importantly, we see how she uses these innate personality traits in her everyday life, because being a scientist is natural for her. As it can be for anyone. I’m really disappointed we won’t see more of this series. It was a great keystone in the changing environment around female representation in current Marvel comics. Marvel is really doing a lot in this area: you should also check out Lunella Lafayette (Moongirl), Taina Miranda (seen in The Unstoppable Wasp), and Riri Williams (Iron Heart).
- Murph (Jessica Chastain) – Interstellar
I loved this character so much. I think I loved her most as the defiant child, determined to science the facts out of everything, but I loved her determination to take no crap as an adult as well. That scene where her dad is arguing with the Principal about Murph’s interaction with a science teacher at school… Dang. I really don’t want to spoil it, because if you haven’t seen the movie—you should. If you have seen the movie, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. She had absolute faith in science, and especially the science her father had inspired in her. That’s what kept her going. Faith in her science. This is the character I am aching to show my spawnlings. Because: science.
- Ada Twist (Scientist)
This one hasn’t really dominated the realm of pop culture yet, but it is fast becoming a hit childrens’ book. Again, the key to this book is the natural support Ada receives from those closest to her; mainly her family and friends. Ada is a young girl with a never-ending curiosity for why and how. When her family see how this curiosity makes her happy, they nurture it! Ada Twist, Scientist is the perfect book for any family with a growing scientist in the midst—both for the child, and the parents who may not always know what to do with them.
- Dr. Samantha Carter – Stargate (TV Series)
Carter is the ultimate over-achiever: the best astrophysicist in the Stargate Universe, and a pilot in the US Defense Force. And she blew up a sun.
“You know, you blow up one sun and everyone expects you to walk on water.”
No, Sam. You were just so brilliant, we expected brilliant to be your factory setting. While theoretical research in the area of quantum mechanics is what brought her to the SG-1 team, what kept her there was her ability to analyze any situation in a clear, quick, and efficient manner. Her scientific mind was perfectly matched with Dr. Daniel Jackson’s humanities focus—which in hindsight was a great “gender-swap” of the usual portrayals in these fields. As Carter progressed through the ranks and responsibilities, it was always refreshing to see her as a regular person who could easily socialize with people AND blow up a sun. That’s right, folks. Scientists can have social skills. Just like any profession.
- Kaiko Nekton – The Deep
Have you not seen The Deep? Dude, you are missing out! I’m pretty sure it is on Netflix (I know for certain it is on Australia’s iView and ABC3 because my kids watch it all the time). The comics are great for kids to read. It’s all about the Nektons, a family of four exploring the oceans and protecting it from those who have little respect for The Deep. Kaiko is the matriarch, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience to this group of adventurers. She is a marine biologist and submarine pilot, and a fantastic example of the typical working mum balancing her maternal instincts with her overall protective instincts for all sea-life. Kaiko grew up in one of the largest marine reserves in the world, feeding her curiosity and love for all marine life. Not once have I seen Kaiko hold back on her passion; if anything, she is always encouraging her kids to get out there and explore it themselves. True science mode.
- Dr. Martha Jones – Doctor Who
Possibly the most undervalued of all The Doctor’s companions, Martha Jones was a breath of fresh air in her clear thinking approach. A qualified doctor, Jones brought a sharp wit and great breadth of knowledge to a TARDIS that was weighed down by the Doctor’s ego. Look, I loved David Tennant as much as you did, but his character with Rose really came across as “ego stroking” most of the time. With Martha, there was nothing to show off because she could do almost as much as him. My favorite of all her scenes is when she completely owns a school nurse who is too caught up in the racial discriminations of the era to consider a black woman as intelligent (let alone, a doctor).
- Angela Pearly-Gates Montenegro-Hodgins – Bones
Out of all the science “squints” in this show, Angela stands out like the sun after a storm. Even she doesn’t really qualify herself as “working in science,” she is only a classically trained artist working in forensic reconstructions. But anyone who has worked in forensic reconstructions knows the scientific know-how necessary to do this job. The analysis, the observation, the questioning. They are all part of the reconstruction. Sure, Angela is seen as the more “human” of the bunch. But she is never palmed off as the eye-candy or direct counter-character to the scientists. She has way too much in common with them to not be seen as working in science. And that’s what makes her character far more realistic.
- Nyota Uhura – Star Trek
Chief Communications Officer Nyota Uhura, specializing in linguistics, cryptography, and philology. It should also be of no surprise her name is based off the Swahili word uhuru, meaning freedom. Her character is the epitome of freedom: freedom from racial discrimination, freedom from gender confines of scientific vocations, freedom from being relegated to just The Love Interest. She is a trailblazer of awesome, in every sense of the word. And if you DARE to even suggest that a Communications Officer isn’t really science, just remember how many amazing women have been involved in the science of cryptography. It is a discipline that calls upon mathematics, computer science, and engineering, and involves some high-level thinking with pattern recognition. And it’s pretty nifty pulling out a little QeD at parties too.
- Go-Go Tomago – Big Hero 6
You want a pop culture role model for women and girls in science? Catch a glimpse at Go-Go Tomago, the industrial design and mechanical engineering student from the Marvel/Disney hit Big Hero 6. She is tough, smart, and extreme. She doesn’t mince words, delivering some of the best lines of the movie—”Stop whining, woman up!” It’s not just her wit; Go-Go has the determination to problem solve any task with a speed often mistaken for impatience. Never has a character made me want to study more engineering… That’s kind of weird saying out loud…
- Dana Scully – The X-Files
Where would we be without Dana Scully? Despite her dependence on her faith, Scully could reduce everything to a simple scientific observation. Her mind kept her focused and level-headed, especially when Mulder would be floating off on some galactic ideology. Scully was one of the few female characters who elicited respect from both my mother and I equally. I loved her for the pragmatic and analytical approach to any situation. My mother loved a character (a woman, no less) portrayed as both professional and spiritual without coming off as crazy. Scully is definitely the first character I can recall who maintained that balance.
- Chief Engineer Naomi Nagata – The Expanse
Self-educated with multiple advanced degrees in engineering, if you’re ever stranded in space then you will want Nagata to be on board. She’ll be a tad upset for you dragging her on this fateful journey, but you’ll be glad she’s there. As one of the many characters in The Expanse, Nagata is the poster-girl of every story where the young genius overcomes every challenge life throws at her, and then some. In fact, it was the drive to survive and her brilliant mind that probably landed her in science. Just as it surely is those same scientist qualities that gets her out of strife too. You want to know how science is going to save us all? Nagata. Everything about Nagata.
After starting up the discussion with my fellow GeekMom writers, we suddenly realized there were so many more than what we have on this list! Did I miss your favorite? Tell me off in the comments below. I love the discussion.
For more details on the UN International Day for Women and Girls in Science, check out Patricia’s post, with ideas on how you can celebrate the day and encourage more females to believe they can be scientists too.