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KUNC is among the founding partners of the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of public media stations that serve the Western states of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Group Aims To Change Face Of Science, Starting With Database Of Women Scientists

An organization called ‘500 Women Scientists’ got its start in the Mountain West. Now, it has gone global with a database of experts who are also women.

It all started when members of the group noticed a pattern: an overabundance of something they call ‘manels.’

“They are all-male panels,” says Liz McCullagh, a neuroscientist at the University of Colorado and a member of 500 Women Scientists. “And in particular in fields where we know there’s a lot of representation of women, it’s incredibly frustrating.”

Then, there were the studies showing that the face of science is still very male. In one, researchers asked American kids to draw what a scientist looks like, and only 3 in 10 drew women. In another, prestigious universities invited male scientists to speak about their research about twice as often as they did female scientists.

In an effort to disrupt those trends, McCullagh and other members of the group started a database to make it super-easy for anyone, from journalists to school teachers to conference organizers, to get in touch with female researchers.

It’s called “Request A Woman Scientist.” The database now includes about 9,000 researchers and counting, in fields from solar physics to software engineering.  

“I think this should become the next Wikipedia. So if you’re looking for information about anything, why not search our database to see if you can find a real live person to talk to about their research?” says McCullagh. “They would love to talk to you about it.”

But the group isn’t stopping there. They’re analyzing how effective the database is and just published their findings in the journal PLOS Biology.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. 

Rae Ellen Bichell was a reporter for KUNC and the Mountain West News Bureau from 2018 to 2020.