Vaccinologist Barbie: Life in plastic, it’s STEM-tastic!

We may still be bemoaning the dearth of statues of significant female figures – fewer than 3 per cent of statues in the UK are of non-royal women – but at least there is Barbie. This week saw the announcement of a whole new range of Barbie figures in their “Role Models” range, all of them Stem (science, technology, engineering, and maths) figures who made an impact during the pandemic.

Among them is the vaccinologist Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, co-creator of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The scientist is now a doll that can add inspiration to the toy box of girls across the world, red-haired, besuited, sporting some very cool specs, and clearly very much, as Barbie might put it, the full Shero.

What did Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert make of her doll?

Well, I’d say she does look, in the photos of her posing with her Barbie at her office desk, happily perplexed. “Very strange” was one of the things she said of the experience of being made into a doll. “My wish,” she went on, “is that my doll will show children careers they may not be aware of, like a vaccinologist … I am passionate about inspiring the next generation of girls into Stem careers and hope that children who see my Barbie will realise how vital careers in science are to help the world around us.”

I take it you can get quite a few other Barbie Stem heroes then?

Not until now you couldn’t. To be honest, Barbie hasn’t hitherto been that strong on representation of the female scientist, though Nasa mathematician and physicist Katherine Johnson has for some time been there in the mix. This new collection, however, is doing quite a good job of making up for it. Additions include US healthcare workers Amy O’Sullivan and Dr Audrey Cruz, Canadian doctor and campaigner Dr Chika Stacy Oriuwa, Brazilian biomedical researcher Dr Jaqueline Goes de Jesus, and Dr Kirby White, the Australian medic who co-created a reusable gown for frontline staff.

READ MORE: ‘I imagined seeing statues of six women instead of six men’

Will it lure more girls into Stem subjects?

Any raised awareness in the lives of young people around the fact that a woman was behind the world’s most widely-used vaccine must surely make a difference. Studies have found that the existence of role models makes a difference in terms of attracting girls and young women into Stem subjects – and that the group that most needs to be drawn in is women and girls from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Does this make up for the lack of female statues in our streets?

Perhaps. What is not yet cast in bronze, is, at least now cast in plastic.

Exactly. And, as the pop band Aqua once sang, ‘Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!’ Well, not always. Really only when you’re a Barbie Loves The Ocean doll, made in 90% recycled ocean-bound plastic.


READ MORE: Coronavirus: The story behind the game-changing Oxford Covid vaccine

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