What's a 'Science Princess' doing in an ice field in Alaska?

By Dhruti Shah
BBC News

  • Published
Celeste Labedz wearing a cape in front of a glacierImage source, Celeste Labedz
Image caption,
The cape Celeste took to Alaska had been created for a Halloween costume depicting Princess Elsa from Disney's Frozen

While Celeste Labedz knew quite a few fellow scientists would appreciate the picture of her dressed up as a "glaciologist Princess Elsa", she had no idea the image would become a viral hit with more than 10,000 "likes" on Twitter.

She tweeted: "I firmly believe that kids should not be taught that girly things and sciencey things are mutually exclusive. Therefore, I packed a cape with my fieldwork gear just to show what glaciologist Princess Elsa would look like. #SciencePrincess #TheColdNeverBotheredMeAnyway".

The cryoseismologist told BBC News: "I posted the picture because I thought it would resonate with other scientists.

"I was heading out to Alaska's Juneau Icefield to carry out research and I thought it would be a lot of fun.

"The cape folded up really small so I had it in my backpack. When we had a break, I took it out.

"I wasn't expecting it to have the effect it had and to spread so far. It's had such a positive response. People are showing it to their kids and that makes me happy."

The reaction was so overwhelming she posted several other images from her trip, along with a link to Nasa facts about glaciers.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Celeste and her mum, Cynthia, had originally made the cape to use in a Halloween costume depicting Princess Elsa from the Disney film.

And when she had the idea to pose in the field, Celeste asked Cynthia to send the cape over from her home state of Nebraska to the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, so she could fit it in her baggage for the journey to Alaska.

"I loved Cinderella while growing up but Princess Elsa is my favourite Disney character - she loves ice," Celeste said.

Image source, Celeste Labedz
Image caption,
Celeste Labedz had to cut her research trip short as the glacier was too warm

Having posed for the picture, Celeste had to wait before posting it to Twitter, as there was no mobile phone signal on the glacier.

She used a digital camera to take all the photos while out on the trip.

"Once I got back, it was about sifting through and sorting the ones for research out first and then looking through the Elsa pictures," she said.

"It took a few days. But I also spent quite a lot of time thinking about what I was going to write."

That photo of Celeste standing in the ice field - where she was investigating the use of seismometers to detect earthquakes on glaciers - also prompted others to showcase their pictures, with scientists sharing their own versions of what it's like to be a "Science Princess" and parents highlighting how helpful Celeste's image was for children needing a role model.

"It was amazing," Celeste said. "I loved seeing some of the biologists holding furry animals. One was with a dog, another with an alligator."

Image source, Dr Lauren M Robinson
Image caption,
Dr Lauren Robinson was among those who responded to Celeste's original tweet with images of her out and and about at work

Jakob responded: "Oh my God I love it. My girls are huge Elsa fans (... duh), and are struggling a lot with gender prejudices from other kids. So showing them this will definitely give them courage to follow their dreams: astronaut dinosaur breeder and volcano plumber. Yeah, they are still young."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Celeste, whose dream is to visit glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, said: "Women have been excluded for a long time both historically and socially. There is a lack of role models and science is bound by historical notions that it's a white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied environment.

"It can be exclusionary if you have the opposite of any of these characteristics and I want to encourage people with intersecting identities in everything that I do.

"I would like people to think carefully about what they think a scientist should look like."

Her own interest in science was encouraged by her parents. Her father worked at the University of Nebraska State Museum.

"I basically grew up in a natural history museum," Celeste said.

"I do science on ice. I'm studying geophysics and my research is focused on trying to figure out how useful seismology can be to help understand glaciers."

However, the trip on which she took the picture that's gone viral was one that had to be unexpectedly cut short.

"Unfortunately it wasn't that cold," Celeste said. "We've been having a warmer summer season and climate change does play a big role in this.

"On the glacier, you normally get temperatures up to 55-60F [12-15C] but we had several days where we were closer to 70F.

"I had to cut my fieldwork short as it was just too hot."