By Odin’s Beard! Natalie Portman and Thor Inspire Girls to Study Science

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Oct. 2 2013 11:44 AM

By Odin’s Beard! Natalie Portman and Thor Inspire Girls to Study Science

Are you an American girl 14 or older; in grades nine through 12; and love science, tech, engineering, and/or math (STEM)? Do you know a girl like this?

Then get yourself (or her) over to the Marvel Ultimate Mentor Adventure website! The beloved comic book creators are hoping to inspire a generation of girls to become the next wave of STEM professionals. They’re holding a competition where girls interview a woman working in STEM and then create a five-minute unedited video of themselves talking about the interview, themselves, and why they want a STEM career. The winners will get flown to Hollywood to see the premiere of the new Thor movie (The Dark World) on opening day.

Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman is a woman of science in real life, too.

Photo by Marvel comics.

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In the first Thor movie, Natalie Portman—who has a serious science background—portrayed Jane Foster, an astrophysicist. Marvel made an introductory video for the competition featuring Portman and a UCLA anthropology student. I’ll note that in the original comics, Foster was a nurse, but they wanted to update her character for the movies. Her being an astrophysicist was in no small part due to the work of the science advisers, including my friend and cosmologist Sean Carroll. But that wouldn’t have happened at all if the writers and producers hadn’t wanted it. I think that’s fantastic.

Marvel has the rules all laid out on their website. They’re very helpful, including a list of women working all over the country in STEM fields to help the girls out.

I love this idea. As The Mary Sue points out, winners get a pretty nifty prize, and even girls who don’t win get information (and potential mentors) that can help them pursue their interests. Men outnumber women in almost every field of STEM, and the reason for this pretty much boils down to an inherent bias. Women and men are indistinguishable when it comes to intellect, insight, and ability to work in the sciences. That societal bias means we really should try harder to get more girls inspired.

I’m really glad to see Marvel doing this, and very pleased—and not at all surprised—to see my good friends at the Science and Entertainment Exchange behind this as well. The SEE is doing fantastic work getting more science and a better portrayal of scientists in the movies. I’ve done some work with them, and this is a great group of folks doing the world a big favor: helping science and entertainment. I think movies can inspire the scientist in us; they certainly did for me. Partnering with Marvel to help inspire girls in particular is truly wonderful.

The contest ends at midnight on Oct. 20. Get going!

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!