Smithsonian Honors Female Scientists With 120 Bright Orange Statues

The 3-D–printed figures will be displayed on the National Mall in celebration of Women’s History Month

A field with life size orange plastic statues of women and two humans posing with them
The life-size exhibit presents an inclusive vision of women excelling in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Courtesy of IF/THEN

Next month, the Smithsonian is celebrating Women’s History Month in a big, bold way: by displaying 120 life-size, neon-orange statues of female scientists in several locations around the National Mall. 

The 3-D–printed figures honor a diverse group of women who have excelled in science and technology, from biologists that track endangered species to astronomers searching for extraterrestrial life. The project is a collaboration between the Smithsonian and If/Then, an initiative “designed to activate a culture shift among young girls to open their eyes to STEM careers.”

The #IfThenSheCan exhibit will be appear on the National Mall from March 5 to March 27 and will be “the largest collection of statues of women ever assembled together,” according to the event press release.

“We are excited to highlight the work of these game-changing STEM innovators and help expand the narrative about who is leading in these fields,” says Rachel Goslins, director of the Arts and Industries Building, in a statement. “These women are changing the world and providing inspiration for the generation that will follow them.” 

The female trailblazers features in the exhbit include Jessica Esquivel, one of just 150 Black women with a PhD in physics in the country, and Karina Popovich, a college student who produced over 82,000 pieces of 3-D–printed PPE for healthcare workers during the pandemic, according to Ashraf Khalil for the Associated Press. Others include astrophysicist Kelly Korreck, wildlife biologist Kristine Inman, microbiologist Dorothy Tovar, and the United States Women’s National Soccer Team physician Monica Rho.

Visitors will be able to learn more about each scientist by scanning a QR code on each statue that links to a personal story, Adam Barnes reports for The Hill.

“These striking 3-D–printed figures of remarkable women in STEM careers help us celebrate the incredible impact women continue to make on vital scientific endeavors,” says Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian, in a statement. “This exhibition highlights how a more diverse, more inclusive workforce will strengthen our shared future.”

The installation is part of a larger movement to create a more inclusive vision who can excel in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In the United States, women make up nearly half of the workforce but only around 27 percent work in science fields. The STEM gap is even more pronounced in certain fields. Only about a quarter of those in IT and around 15 percent in engineering identify as women.

The exhibit “provides the perfect opportunity for us to show that women have successfully thrived in STEM for decades, while also illustrating the innumerable role models young women can find in every field,” says Ellen Stofan, the Smithsonian’s under secretary for science and research, in a statement

Visitors can find all 120 statues in the Arts and Industries Building, the Smithsonian Castle, and the Enid A. Haupt Garden during opening weekend March 5-6, reports Washingtonian’s Kayla Benjamin. Some figures will then be moved to other Smithsonian museums and gardens around the National Mall, where they will stay on display until March 27.

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