Intended to complement the Defining Features exhibition of scientists portraits originally shown at the National Portrait gallery, London, and more recently at the Sainsbury Centre in UEA, a smaller, exhibition was on display at the John Innes Centre. The principle pictures are of scientists, painted by scientists, and give clues to how scientists see themselves. Alongside these portraits is a set of pictures drawn by children from two TSN schools, North Elmham Primary School and Hethersett Middle School.
We know that children usually draw or describe scientists as middle-aged men in lab coats with wild hair and thick glasses, and nearly always associate them with eccentricity and delusion. Quite often the context is an experiment that has catastrophically gone wrong, accompanied by explosions, danger and destruction (below - right).
But there is much less of this shown in the pictures produced by these particular children, many of whom have engaged with the schools TSN scientist. Some of these pictures show women scientists as well as men, and although there are plenty of the usual test tubes and bubbling coloured liquids, the context appears calm and controlled, and you need to look very hard to find the usual wild-haired bespectacled boffin. It seems as though TSN children have jettisoned the boffin stereotype.
You may also be interested in the Nysgjerrigper project run by the Norwegian Research Councils that we came across in Summer 2006 comparing chldrens attitudes and images of scientists and featured in our Autumn 2006 newlsetter. They reported a strong move-away from the stereotypical male-dominated image, with many pupils drawing female scientists (approx. 30%, - above left) and highlighting a diverse range of career options in science from chemists working on perfumes to marine biologists, not restricted to life in the lab. Take a look at