Science & Environment

Famous female scientists are unknown to UK public

Marie Curie (left) and Albert Einstein (Images: Science Photo Library)
Image caption Female scientific pioneers appear to have escaped public consciousness

Two-thirds of the British public are unable to name a single famous female scientist, according to an ICM poll.

The same survey, organised by the Royal Society, revealed that 90% of 18-24 year-olds could not name a female scientific figure - either current or historical.

Almost half were able to name at least one famous male scientist, such as Albert Einstein.

The Royal Society's Lorna Casselton described the results as "frustrating".

But the same poll also indicated that parents see scientists as good role models for their daughters.

Scientist or pop star?

Respondents were offered a choice of six "role model types" for a daughter - ranging from a doctor or lawyer to an athlete or pop star.

Almost half of the 1,000 adults questioned chose "life-saving doctor", while "Nobel prize-winning scientist" came second, with 20% selecting it as their first choice.

According to the findings, public knowledge of the role played by women in major scientific breakthroughs is also low.

Just 6% of those polled knew that a female scientist (Jocelyn Bell Burnell) played a major part in the discovery of pulsar stars. Only 18% were aware that another woman, Dorothy Hodgkin, discovered the structure of insulin.

Professor Casselton, who is vice-president of the Royal Society, said: "People are still unaware of the contribution made by women to science in the past, [but] overall I am encouraged by the findings of this poll.

"They suggest public perceptions of women in science are changing. [We] want to encourage more girls (and their parents) to see science as an achievable and desirable career path.

"Most importantly we want to encourage them to see science not only as a fulfilling career but one that can change the world and contribute to our quality of life."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites