Baroness Susan Greenfield, on a visit to mark the opening of Marymount International School London’s Fab Lab, explains why she believes women in science face banana skins, bottle necks and elephant traps
Women in science today face many challenges compared with their male counterparts. That’s the view of Baroness Susan Greenfield, the British scientist known for her work on the physiology of the brain, who describes the challenges as ‘banana skins, bottle necks and elephant traps’.
Baroness Greenfield’s comments were made in a lecture to girls at Marymount International School London, where she opened the first fully equipped Fab Lab (Fabrication Laboratory) to be set up in a British school. A Fab Lab is a state-of-the-art workshop equipped with an array of flexible computer controlled tools which can make ‘almost anything’.
The school will use the new Fab Lab to teach computer programming, coding, robotics and design – areas that straddle the disciplines of mathematics, physics and technology as well as art and design. Costing over £90,000, the lab is equipped with 3D printers, a 3D scanner, a laser cutter, a vinyl cutter, a sublimating printer, a large format printer and a number of notebook computers.
Baroness Greenfield went on to describe the ‘banana skins’ – the various myths that surround women in science, including that they are less competent; the ‘bottle necks’, which include the choices surrounding motherhood and career structure; and the ‘elephant traps’, which can be found in women themselves, including lack of confidence. She concluded, however, that women should not be pessimistic about their prospects, quoting Nobel laureate Rita Levi-Montalcine (1909-2012) who said: ‘Above all, don’t fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.’
Sarah Gallagher, Headmistress at the independent girls’ secondary school in Kingston upon Thames that houses nigh on 250 students aged 11-18, says: ‘We’re delighted to be able to offer girls the profound learning potential of the Fab Lab. The use of the Lab is truly interdisciplinary, and leads to a 21st century learning experience.’
Until now, schools in the UK wishing to access a Fab Lab could only do so via universities and independently run workshops. In line with the ‘open source’ philosophy of Fab Labs UK and across the world, Marymount plans to open its Fab Lab to a wide range of users. The school has linked with local schools St Agatha’s and St. Joseph’s to offer an enrichment programme run by students with support from staff on a voluntary basis.
‘As we learn and gain proficiency in using the Fab Lab, the offering will inevitably grow for students and teachers working together, since the girls’ natural curiosity is engaged by this new technology,’ Sarah adds. ‘All children attending the Saturday enrichment programme will be able to spend time in the Fab Lab and be introduced to its possibilities.’
George Road, Kingston upon Thames KT2 7PE; 020 8949 0571; marymountlondon.com