Inspiring girls to take up the sciences

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HOW do you encourage more young girls to take up a career in one of the sciences?

One idea would be to magic up a factory that could clone copies of 25-year old chemist Jayne Ede and send them out to schools around the country!

It’s fair to say that Jayne, a Stem ambassador who does outreach work in schools, wowed members of Gosport and Fareham Soroptimists at the September speaker meeting with a hugely enjoyable talk on a serious issue peppered with humorous anecdotes.

Stem is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Jayne was recruited to speak to the club by another scientist, former club president Tracy Gardiner.

The club is considering a project to try to encourage secondary school girls to study subjects that will enable them to consider careers in the sciences.

Jayne works as a chemist at DSTL, the government’s Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory that contributes to the defence and security of the UK.

Her her enthusiasm and passion for her job and for science enthralled the audience. She described her work creating, analysing and destroying chemicals used in warfare, such as mustard gas and nerve gases used in countries such as Syria.

‘I love my job and I love science,’ she said, after explaining that she had wanted a career as a pilot, having joined the RAF Air Cadet Force at the age of 13.

But she hadn’t reckoned on an inspirational chemistry teacher. ‘A small fire in the lab was called experience,’ she explained. ‘It didn’t get you expelled.’

So she studied chemistry at Southampton University and while she was there she undertook a teaching placement, reckoning that it couldn’t be all that different to teaching air cadets.

But it was. Air cadets wanted to be taught whereas some pupils did not want to learn. But within weeks, previously uninterested pupils were telling her that she had changed their perception of science.

She said a disproportionate number of women worked in the sciences. In chemistry and mathematics they made up about 50 per cent at undergraduate level but fell by the wayside later.

In physics, about only seven per cent were women but puzzlingly biology was much more popular but she was at a loss to understand why. She said that when it came to career choices she wanted to make the role of chromosomes as arbitrary as Xs and Ys.