2017 has been, in many ways, a great year for girls and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). An 11 year old girl won a national science prize for inventing a water filter to help solve the Flint water crisis. A Japanese physician gained international acclaim after she combatted misinformation about the HPV vaccine. Even the Girl Scouts got in on the act, announcing a new middle-school program to attempt to close the gender gap for women in STEM. And as the next year rolls around, new women will be coming to the forefront to get their time in the spotlight.
From chemists who are transforming the way in which we look at DNA to pioneers in apps and tech to artificial intelligence experts who want to teach girls how to code chatbots, the female heroes of STEM in the new year come from hugely varied disciplines. And it's shaping to be a banner year for girls in STEM in particular; even American Girl, the doll company, has announced that its 2018 Girl Of The Year is a doll based on an aspiring astronaut. While STEM disciplines continue to see gender imbalance, 2018 will hopefully see women and girls inspired to enter STEM — and change the world when they do.
1. Polly Rodriguez, Founder Of Unbound
Apps are a booming business. Polly Rodriguez, a co-founder of the tech collective Women Of Sextech, has been making headlines recently for the amount of capital she's raised for her sexual wellness app Unbound, which combines a subscription service of toys, condoms and other titbits with an online shop and articles. It's raised $2.7 million thus far, and is set to be the next big name in sexual health apps for women — and Rodriguez, who started the company after her own experience of cancer and chemotherapy, might just be the next tech entrepreneur to watch out for. Keep an eye out for Unbound as a rising app star.
2. Dr. Priya Subramanian, Mathematician
Dr. Subramanian is one of the 2017 L'Oreal Women In Science Fellows, an annual award for rising stars in STEM fields across the world. Her area of research? Quasicrystals, a kind of crystal that earned their discoverer the Nobel Prize in 2011 for their sheer weirdness. Dr. Subramanian looks at why quasicrystals possess their distinguishing feature — their internal patterns never repeat — and how they can be used in manufacturing and other industries. Sounds difficult to explain at a party, but it may prove to be the cornerstone of a lot of extremely cool stuff in the future.
3. Renee Watson, Founder Of Curiosity Box
Scientist Renee Watson was the 2017 winner of the Women In Science England (WISE) Toy Award for her company Curiosity Box, a subscription toy service of science-oriented toys for kids aged 7 to 11 — with 53 percent of their boxes going to girls. "I grew up in a small town where few people went to University and science was a dirty word, especially for a girl," Watson told WISE when she won the award. Curiosity Box is a part of the emerging market for STEM subscription services, and Watson's version is making one of the biggest splashes around.
4. Dr. Yamuna Krishnan, DNA Chemist
Professor Yamuna Krishnan, a chemist, won the Infosys Prize this year for Physical Sciences, the first woman to win in the prize's history — for her seriously amazing work with DNA. Professor Krishnan is at the forefront of DNA nanodevices, small artificial devices using DNA scaffolding that can be inserted into the body to make discoveries about health and medicine. These tiny creations are revolutionizing the way we could receive medication, treat disease, and understand cell biology in the future, and Krishnan's lab is in the process of making an easy-to-use version that can spread the technology worldwide.
5. The Afghan Girls Robotics Team
The Afghanistan girls robotics team, who made headlines when they were temporarily banned from entering the U.S., won a very prestigious European robotics competition at the end of 2017. Their solar-powered robot, designed for use on farms, will take them to new heights in 2018, too: They're venturing back to the U.S. in May to compete for funding and the chance to start their own robotics company. Keep your eyes peeled for future robotics mavens on the horizon.
6. Anamita Guha, Creator Of Chatbots For Good
Anamita Guha is working on changing the way we use chatbots. The product manager for IBM's artificial intelligence engine Watson, she's also teamed up with Girls Who Code to create something called Chatbots For Good. The program helps girls across the country, even if they have no coding experience at all, learn how to code chatbots that pick up on their users' emotional cues to give appropriate and cheerful responses. Customer chatbots, according to IBM, are probably the future of customer service, and girls who code can be part of the new revolution — with Guha's help, of course.