Lisa Harvey Smith: I think my love of science came from when I was a kid I used to look at the stars, and the wonderful thing about the stars is anyone that in the whole world can look up at the night sky and wonder about how we came to be: where we come from and where we are going to. So as an astronomer I really continued that love through academic study through a career of looking at the stars with some of the world's biggest telescopes and I still share that wonder with my 12 year old self. Where do we come from, where are we going, what does it all mean? And that is why I love science, because we can apply a scientific method, a rigorous way of finding out how we came to be, where we are, and who we are.
Julia Dean: And are there any obstacles for women, in the male dominated STEM fields?
LHS: There certainly are obstacles to women working in fields such as physics and chemistry and astronomy historically and, even in IT now. Women are very under-represented in those fields. But there is no real barrier: it is a sociological and psychological barrier. And it is not there for a lot of women now, who have punched through that hole and through that glass ceiling, and are doing incredible work.
In my area of astronomy, there is sometimes a feeling that you are a little bit on your own, in a male dominated field. But, with the right mentoring, the right networks and the right support from organizations…this is what we are trying to push for now. Organizations change, so we don't live in the 1950's, we don't live in the period where women couldn't take their full part in society, and couldn't take their full place at the top table of science. And really, the message for young people is that science is for you.
JD: And is that why you think it is important to give girls and women equal opportunities in science, because science is for them?
LHS: Science is for absolutely for everyone. It’s about solving problems for humanity. Even if it is about astronomy, it’s about finding out where we came from, and what life is all about.
And the physical sciences – and engineering, chemistry, maths, IT – these are all about solving very human problems. Climate change, and human rights: they all include elements of mathematics and science and technology. Even things like artificial intelligence. We need to design these with both men and women in mind, and with all areas of society and people from around the world to make sure that AI is representing the whole of the human race.
JD: And given these opportunities, and also the ability to solve these challenges through science, what is your message to the future female scientists all over the world ?
LHS: Young women like myself, who wonder about the world – and who doesn't wonder about the world and want to make the world a better place – this is your opportunity.
Science and technology and mathematics are for you because you need to change the world. Women need to take their place at the top table of science, and we need to use it for good to change the world for the better, and you can do it.