3D Printed Statues of 120 Female STEM Innovators Displayed at Smithsonian


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March is Women’s History Month, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than with what’s been called the “largest collection of statues of women” in the “#IfThenSheCan — The Exhibit” at the Smithsonian. The life-sized 3D printed statues, for the museum’s new Women’s Futures Month celebration, are of 120 trailblazing women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The exhibit is the result of a partnership between the Smithsonian and IF/THEN, an initiative designed by Lyda Hill Philanthropies that’s meant to kickstart a cultural shift among young girls to consider careers in STEM fields.

“What inspires someone to dream big, reach further, leap higher? #IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit’ was a big idea that we created with the intention to reach young girls to spark their dreams and support their interest in science,” said entrepreneur Lyda Hill, the Founder of Lyda Hill Philanthropies. “We are deeply grateful to the Smithsonian to make these statues accessible to so many in our nation’s capital.”

Nicole Small, the CEO of Lyda Hill Philanthropies, said, “When our families and our kids are walking around looking at the people that are held up as role models they’re not seeing anyone that looks like them and we knew we wanted to fix that problem.

“We are calling this exhibit, the ‘If Then She Can’ exhibit because we know that if we show little girls all these amazing women doing all this amazing work in this world that each of them will know that they too can grow up and they too can change the world.”

At the beginning of the month, the 3D printed statues started off in the Arts and Industries Building, the Smithsonian Castle, and the Enid A. Haupt Garden next door. Now, until this Sunday the 27th, select statues are on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, certain gardens, and other spots along the National Mall.

“#IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit’ provides the perfect opportunity for us to show that women have successfully thrived in STEM for decades, while also illustrating the innumerable role models young women can find in every field. Through this exciting collaboration with Lyda Hill Philanthropies, the Smithsonian is furthering our commitment to fostering an environment where all girls know they can make an indelible mark on our future,” said Ellen Stofan, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Science and Research.

#IfThenSheCan Exhibit Programming

The 3D printed statues aren’t the only way that Women’s Futures Month is being celebrated. There has been interesting programming, both in-person and online, for visitors of all ages, including the chance to meet some of these inspiring women. For instance, aerospace engineer Dr. Dava Newman, Director of the MIT Media Lab, talked about the Biosuit she created to enable astronauts of all sizes to travel in space.

United States Coast Guard White House Fellow and climate change researcher Victoria Herrmann, PhD, shared about her interviews with community leaders in the Arctic to document traditions, determine needs, and secure resources to protect the culture of the communities. Next week, there will be a “Wikipedia Edit-a-thon: Increasing the Representation of Women in STEM” about learning how to edit and update Wikipedia articles related to women in STEM and help improve their uneven representation.

“We are excited to highlight the work of these game-changing STEM innovators and help expand the narrative about who is leading in these fields. These women are changing the world and providing inspiration for the generation that will follow them,” said Rachel Goslins, director of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building.

Female STEM Innovators

Each of the 3D printed statues has a unique QR code, which visitors can scan to learn more about the women and their personal stories. There’s definitely a lot to learn here: the statues honor a diverse group of women in STEM fields, in careers ranging from tagging sharks, curing cancer, and building the YouTube platform to choreographing robots and searching for extraterrestrial life.

“These striking 3D-printed figures of remarkable women in STEM careers help us celebrate the incredible impact women continue to make on vital scientific endeavors. This exhibition highlights how a more diverse, more inclusive workforce will strengthen our shared future,” said Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian.

Karina Popovich, an undergraduate student at Cornell University, founded Makers for COVID-19 in the beginning of the pandemic and 3D printed more than 82,000 pieces of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. Jessica Esquivel is one of only 150 Black women in the US with a PhD in physics, and Rae Wynn-Grant, a National Geographic explorer and wildlife ecologist, is working to save wildlife and endangered species from extinction.

“The depth of the honor is shocking. In the best way possible, it’s the deepest honor. It’s beyond money or fame,” Wynn-Grant said about being included in the exhibit. “There is this symbolism and reverence that is indescribable.”

Another woman who was turned into a 3D printed statue for the exhibit is manufacturing scientist Amy Elliott, PhD. She works at Oak Ridge National Lab’s (ORNL) Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF), consulting on strategic applications of 3D printing.

The 120 female STEM innovators were chosen to be honored by the Smithsonian in the form of these 3D printed statues by going through a tough selection process. They were distinguished as leaders in their fields working to inspire the next generation of women to consider STEM fields. Lyda Hill Philanthropies and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) chose them all to serve as AAAS IF/THENAmbassadors for middle school girls.

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