Physicist writes Wikipedia pages for female pioneers in STEM

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Throughout history, female scientists, engineers and mathematicians have changed the world. But while their accomplishments have been massive, their names and their stories have rarely been publicized. Physicist Jess Wade wanted to share the stories of great STEM pioneers who may be overlooked – and she came up with a unique way to do that: writing Wikipedia pages.

Wade told CBS News that while the number of women in STEM is small in comparison to men, she’s always had role models in the field, including her mom, a physician.

“Whilst the number of women professors in a physics department is quite small, you’re really aware and you’re really inspired by the ones you get to interact with,” said Wade, a research fellow at Imperial College London. “So certainly, being surrounded by and inspired by women was really important to me discovering who I am as a scientist.”

When she was a graduate student, Wade met another inspiring woman in STEM, Kim Cobb.

Physicist Jess Wade wanted share the stories of great STEM pioneers who may be overlooked – and she came up with a unique way to do that: writing Wikipedia pages. / Credit: Jess Wade

“She’s one of those people you meet and you go, ‘How can one person be so awesome?’” Wade said about Cobb, a climate scientist at Brown University studying the impact of humans on climate change.

“So when I met her I thought she is an awesome person and I need to learn more about her. When I did a little search, I couldn’t find any information about her that was in kind of one place. What I wanted was to find a Wikipedia page and a Wikipedia page wasn’t there.”

That’s how Wade got the idea to start writing Wikipedia pages for diverse people in STEM who don’t yet have them.

“I became really interested in ways we could try and improve that diversity but also improve the way we celebrate and honor the incredible scientists who are from historically marginalized backgrounds — so people who are women, or people of color, or people who are LGBTQ+ — who historically have been underrepresented in science,” she said.

In her free time, Wade scours the internet to collect information, then she gets to work writing Wikipedia pages. She’s written more than 1,700 so far. She said it is always shocking to her when someone notable doesn’t have a page – but a few stand out.

Like Kizzmekia Corbett, a viral immunologist and assistant professor at Harvard who developed the way to artificially create spike proteins to create the Moderna MRNA COVID-19 vaccine in 2020.

President Biden wears a protective mask while greeting Kizzmekia Corbett, an immunologist with the vaccine research center at the National Institutes of Health, during a tour in Bethesda, Maryland, on Feb. 11, 2021. / Credit: Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“If you think about the kind of people who probably had the most impact on all of our lives, in the past two years, Kizzie is way up there, right. She’s world leader in facilitating some kind of return to normality,” Wade said.

“Another absolutely amazing person who I thought had a super interesting story that wasn’t on Wikipedia was a linguist called Elizabeth Sudmeier, who actually was at the inception of the Central Intelligence Group, which became the CIA,” Wade said. “She was there as a woman, as a kind of pioneer in leading the way in doing whatever sophisticated technologies the U.S. was starting to create and leverage.”

She also noted the page she wrote for June Lindsey, who was instrumental in discovering the structure of DNA.

Wade is now making a name for herself in STEM, and she knows she wouldn’t be here without those who came before her. “Wikipedia is one small part of this but we all have a role to play in making science a more diverse and a more fair and a more equal place,” she said.

She said others can shine a spotlight on STEM pioneers too. “Talk about scientists from historically marginalized groups in your lessons, talk about them with your kids. The sky’s the limit,” she said.

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