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Breaking down science stereotypes

If you ask a class of primary school children to draw a picture of a scientist, often they will draw a man in a white lab coat.

But, on the eve of the United Nations’ International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, there are many New Zealand women scientists trying to break down that stereotype.

Among them is House of Science chief executive Chris Duggan.

House of Science distributes more than 300 science resource kits to classrooms around the country, empowering teachers to deliver “meaningful, hands-on” science lessons.

A former secondary school science teacher and three-time nominee for the Westpac ‘Woman of Influence’ awards (science and innovation category), Chris established House of Science in Tauranga in 2013.

In partnership with the Wright Family Foundation, she has taken her vision to raise scientific literacy to nine other centres throughout New Zealand, with more clamouring to join.

Chloe Wright, founder of the Wright Family Foundation, says House of Science is a project which fits perfectly with the values and goals of the foundation.

“The Wright Family Foundation is about empowerment through education, which is exactly what House of Science is achieving.

“And if their work helps more young women think about taking up science careers, that’s got to be positive.”

Among the 35 topics children can learn about through House of Science are pollution, skeletons, and electricity, through to the recently-added topics of weather, space and climate change.

Each resource kit includes at least five hands-on experiments, catering for Year 1-8 students, and includes bi-lingual instructions for both teachers and students.

“We want to normalise science in the classroom,” says Chris.

“We understand that many primary teachers lack the confidence to deliver science lessons, but by bringing science into every classroom in the country we want to break down the stereotype of that man in the white lab coat.”

Joining House of Science as its ambassador last year was microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles, who, with her hot pink hair, definitively breaks down the stereotype of what a scientist looks like.

She was named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to microbiology and science communication in the recent New Year’s honours and is well-known for her ability to communicate science in a simple and straightforward way.

“I don’t fit the image or the mould of what a scientist looks like, even within my community, so it’s about challenging some of those preconceptions that ‘you can’t possibly be serious looking like that’.

“It’s important that people outside of science, especially children who might be interested in going into science, see that you can be different,” she says.

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