Science

Launch: Science 50:50 initiative

Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla
Thursday, 15 January, 2015

A new program to inspire young women to pursue degrees and careers in science and technology – led by UNSW’s Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla – has been launched in Canberra.

The Science 50:50 initiative has a simple premise – since half of the population is female, why not half the scientists and technologists?

The program, which will provide internships, scholarships and mentoring to girls so they can succeed in an innovation-driven future, is supported by Professor Sahajwalla's Australian Research Council Georgina Sweet Laureate Fellowship and UNSW, along with scientific and industry partners.

Girls are under-represented in the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  The number of female high school students taking advanced maths, for example, is half that of boys and only 1.5 per cent of Year 12 girls study the STEM trio of advanced maths, physics and chemistry.

This has a lot to do with their perception of science as a career, says Professor Sahajwalla, who is director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology in the Faculty of Science (SMaRT), and who was the only girl in her engineering course at university.

“If we want to secure Australia’s future prosperity, challenging the stereotype of the scientist as a man in a white lab coat is a good place to start,” she says.  

Science 50:50 was launched last night at the National Youth Science Forum in Canberra – a gathering of year 12 students who are interested in science – where Professor Sahajwalla highlighted the exciting and varied opportunities provided by scientific careers.

Speakers at the launch’s panel discussion on women in science included ARC chief executive officer, Professor Aidan Byrne; Vice President of Lockheed Martin Australia, Laura Frank; and chief executive corporate affairs at Arrium, Gillian Burrows. 

Professor Sahajwalla was awarded a prestigious Laureate Fellowship worth $2.37 million over six years in 2014, to undertake her research on transforming toxic electronic waste into high value-added metals and alloys. It includes additional funding to help promote female participation in science.

Science 50:50 will:

Create internship opportunities for girls to get an experience of scientific careers

Launch a New Innovators Competition offering university scholarships to the girls who submit the most original and innovative ideas for solving real world problems

Provide an engaging video series on extraordinary women in research, industry and other areas

Engage girls with science and technology through school visits

Build a network of interested people to help link girls with mentors

UNSW Science media contact: Deborah Smith, 9385 7307, 0478 492 060, deborah.smith@unsw.edu.au