Science in Fiction – Women of Science

by Alyssa Lancaster

Featured photo by Cait_Stewart. Used under a Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 2.0)

With the March for Science coming up, it’s a good time to analyze the public’s perception of science. Science governs the very fabric of our lives, and it should play a role in the policies put forth by our government. Media shines many different lights on the life of a scientist. Even in fictional media, which often thrives on extreme and unrealistic circumstances, characters who use science to solve problems shed light on the ways society and science interact. The tropes are not always true, but as time goes on, we get to see more accurate representations come to the television screen. We’ve come a long way from the stereotypical “mad scientist.”

This blog series will focus on fictional characters that have a knack for science and engineering. To kick off this blog mini-series, I want to write about something very relevant to me: women in science. I am a research technician, myself, and it can be daunting at times to work in a male-driven field. That’s why it’s so important to see other women succeeding in these positions. If they can do it, then I can do it, too.

One such fictional character is Princess Bonnibel Bubblegum, from Pendleton Ward’s award-winning cartoon series Adventure Time. She is a humanoid candy elemental who is a scientist and inventor, as well as the ruler of the Candy Kingdom. Despite the Land of Ooo being a magical place, she insists on finding logic and reasoning behind what goes on.

Bonnibel uses her lab to synthesize her candy subjects, who are simple-minded and happy, but look up to her as their trusted ruler. She focuses a lot on the quality of life for the people of the Candy Kingdom, making serums to heal them from disease, or creating other candy creatures to help and protect the kingdom against outside threats. She has always allowed her subjects to choose a life for themselves, rather than create them to be obedient. This is evidenced when the King of Ooo wins the popular vote and usurps the throne. Bonnie is hurt, but she lets the citizens live the life they want, even though she disagrees with their choice. But any time there’s trouble, regardless of whether she is the acting Princess of Ooo, you can bet Bonnie will be there with a helpful invention to save the day. With science on her side, there’s nothing she can’t do. Princess Bubblegum is a refreshing take for a scientist. She’s a bisexual woman, a passionate ruler, and an intelligent inventor.

Another fictional character is Sandy Cheeks the squirrel, from the Emmy award-winning series SpongeBob SquarePants by Stephen Hillenburg. She may not be a major character in the show, but her scientific skills are shown frequently. Sandy lives in her treedome, a thirty-five foot tall polyurethane dome that houses a large oak tree. She works for an inventor’s firm called Tree Dome Enterprises Limited, and has taken up a residence to study the sea creatures and their lifestyles.

Sandy’s inventions are eccentric but impressive, including such things as a spaceship, a robot, a teleporter, a microscopic submarine, and even a cloning device. She can make anything she puts her mind to! She can be intense, but caring, and often uses her inventions to help out her friends. She invented a tracking device to help locate SpongeBob when he went missing. She creates a microscopic submarine to perform emergency surgery on Squidward when his reed gets lodged in his windpipe. In her spare time, Sandy participates in a lot of extreme sports, including karate, weight-lifting, and anchor tossing. She’s a proud Texan, a skilled athlete, and a prominent scientist.

Yet another fictional character is Winry Rockbell, from the series Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arikawa. It first was released as a graphic novel in Japan, and eventually was adapted into its popular anime version. Winry is an enthusiastic engineer, which has earned her the nickname “crazy gearhead” from her travelling companion. She focuses on design and maintenance of mechanized prosthetic limbs, known as automail.

At only sixteen years old, Winry is already a competent automail mechanic, servicing many clients at her workplace Atelier Garfiel. Clients love her because of her devotion to getting work done, often resulting in consecutive overnight sessions to complete these jobs. She is very empathetic to the needs of her clients, and takes great pride in the important work she does. She agrees to travel with the show’s protagonist, Edward Elric, and serve as his sole engineer and mechanic to ensure that his arm and leg are ready for whatever trouble they get into. She’s stubborn and straight-forward, absolutely loves machinery, and if anyone damages her automail creations, they will certainly face her wrath… and her wrench.

Bonnibel Bubblegum, Sandy Cheeks, and Winry Rockbell are all wonderful representations of women in science. These characters shy away from the quiet and bookish stereotypes the media has assigned to intelligent women over the years. These characters love to learn, and create things that further fulfill their lives and the lives of their friends. They lead diverse lives outside of the lab. And they show us something: a scientist can be a woman. A scientist can be a princess. A scientist can be a bodybuilder. A scientist can be a mechanic. And anyone can be a scientist. You just need a willingness to learn, and a desire to improve the world around you.

About the Author
Alyssa Lancaster is a research technician with Eastman Kodak Company. Excelling in high school chemistry courses, she was pushed to continue studies in college and found a previously-unknown passion for science. The intense drive for learning more about science caused a change in majors from music education to chemistry. Writing, music, and sewing are just a few of the many hobbies she has in her spare time.

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Photo courtesy of Eric Koski

This blog is a publication of the Rochester NY March for Science. Opinions are that of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the ROC-MFS.

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