LEGO recently announced their new limited edition Research Institute set, which will feature three women scientist minifigures—a rare commodity in a LEGO set. In 2013, LEGO released Professor C. Bodin, a female scientist in an unspecified discipline, but the new figures, set to debut in August, will include more detailed designs of a paleontologist, an astronomer and a chemist.
The set was designed and submitted to LEGO Ideas by Ellen Kooijman, a geochemist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. LEGO Ideas is a crowdsourcing site that encourages individuals to submit designs that are reviewed by a committee for possible production after receiving 10,000 votes.
Kooijman has already started making ripples within the scientific community, winning the 2010 Young Scientist Outstanding Poster Paper Award from the European Geoscientists Union. But as an adult LEGO enthusiast, she realized there were few sets that specifically modeled women working in STEM for young girls.
“As a female scientist I had noticed two things about the available LEGO sets: a skewed male/female minifigure ratio and a rather stereotypical representation of the available female figures,” she wrote in her blog.
Drawing from her own career, she originally built a geologist and a chemist and later submitted designs that included a woman falconer, robotics engineer, mechanic, fire fighter and construction worker, in addition to the paleontologist and astronomer eventually selected by the LEGO review committee.
Each set includes a minifigure and her trade toolsets—a telescope for the astronomer, dinosaur bones for the paleontologist and test tubes for the chemist—atop a six-by-four-inch base. Her idea page notes the limitations of the LEGO Digital Designer’s hairstyle and face selections, explaining that she hopes LEGO considers more diverse minifigure designs when they produce the set.
Though the initial response to her designs was slow, a surge in Twitter support eventually allowed Kooijam to gather sufficient support for the project. LEGO announced her as the winner of the Winter 2014 Lego Review results last week, with final decisions on design and availability to be made later.
Photo of Research Institute set courtesy of LEGO Ideas.
Margaret Nickens is a senior at Brown University and an intern with Ms. magazine. Check out her blog or follow her on twitter.