Films and TV Shows Featuring Women Scientists

We know that pop culture is pervasive and serves as the go-to source for trends. The media sets the standard for what is ‘cool’, popular, or prestigious, and that’s why more women scientists should be featured in leading roles. Check out this list of amazing characters developed around women scientists.

o Contact : ‘Ellie Arroway’


The 1997 film, Contact, was adapted from a book of the same name, written by late astronomer and author Carl Sagan. The film centers on Ellie Arroway, an astronomer exploring the implications of extraterrestrial contact with Earth. Arroway, played by Jodie Foster, is based on Jill Tarter, a renowned astronomer and long-time director of the SETI Institute.



o Thor: Jane Foster


Thor’s Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman, is an astrophysicist described as, “a strong and determined woman, with an obstinate will and an independent spirit. She firmly believes that scientists have been invested with the mission of searching the truth.”


o NCIS: Abby Sciuto


Abby Sciuto, portrayed by Pauley Perrette, is a forensic scientist featured in the popular show, NCIS. The show is a drama about a special investigations team that solves crimes related to the US Navy and Marine Corps, and Abby’s expertise in DNA analysis, ballistics and forensics makes her a key part of the unit.



o Bones: ‘Temperance “Bones” Brennan’


Dr. Temperance Brennan, aka Bones, is a forensic scientist that works with her husband, FBI Agent Seeley Booth, to solve crimes using human remains. Bones is not only a respected scientist, she is also a successful author, penning bestselling crime novels.


o Gravity: Dr. Ryan Stone


Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone in 2013 film, Gravity, about the destruction of a space shuttle during orbit. Stone is a medical engineer, a type of character not often seen in mainstream media. According to the Huffington Post


Gravity establishes from the beginning that Bullock's character is in space because she has invented a groundbreaking medical imaging technology that NASA has decided to install in the Hubble Space Telescope for astronomical use. Her skills are considered so integral to the mission that she has been given six months of astronaut training and has spent a full week in space in order to install the delicate technology.


Haven’t seen Gravity? Check out the trailer!



o X-Files: ‘Scully’


The X-Files was a long-running science fiction horror series that centered on a duo of FBI agents, Dana Scully and Fox Moulder, that investigated unsolved cases involving suspected paranormal phenomena. Before becoming and FBI special agent, Dana Scully, was a medical doctor with a strong scientific background, making her quite skeptical concerning the supernatural.


o I, Robot: ‘Susan Calvin’


Susan Calvin, played by Bridget Moynahan, is a robopsychologist in the film I, Robot. Now, robopsychology is not an official scientific discipline, however preliminary work is being forged in this area. In the film, Calvin uses high-level mathematics, robotics and psychology, and she is a focused and determined women, making her a great representation.



o Twister: Dr. Jo Harding


Helen Hunt played Dr. Jo Harding in the 1996 film, Twister. Hunt’s character lost her family in a storm as a child, which inspired her to become a meteorologist that studied catastrophic weather activity. Her team, nicknamed ‘storm chasers’ developed a machine that tracks storms and records the activity, and need to test the device by putting it and themselves in the pathway of a dangerous storm.



o Gorillas in the Mist: Dian Fossey


Gorillas in the Mist is a 1988 film adapted from a book written by zoologist Dian Fossey, who was one of the most distinguished primatologists of her generation. She was portrayed in the film by Sigourney Weaver.

Never heard of the movie? Here’s the trailer!


o Avatar


Avatar is the highest grossing film of all time, and grossed over 2 billion US dollars in the box office! It has been lauded for its groundbreaking visual effects and production value, but it makes our list because of Dr. Grace Augustine (also played by Sigourney Weaver) an exobiologist and leader of the Avatar program. Exobiology is often used synonymously with astrobiology, but exobiology is more specific in that it explores the effects of extraterrestrial environments on living things, whereas astrobiology focuses on how to detect extraterrestrial life (if in fact it does exist). Dr. Augustine is an awesome character because she is extremely smart and driven, and she highlights a somewhat elusive scientific field.



Interesting fact about Sigourney Weaver: she is nicknamed “The Sci-Fi Queen” because of her significant contribution to the science fiction genre. In addition to Avatar and Gorillas, Weaver has also played great roles in other sci-fi films, the most popular being the Alien franchise.


Have a look at this interview with Sigourney to hear what she had to say about the movie and her character.


o Stargate-SG1: Samantha Carter


Samantha Carter, played by Amanda Tapping, is an engineer and astrophysicist on the military sci-fi show, Stargate: SG1. The show is a continuation of the 1994 film and focuses on a special operations team that travels the galaxy to identify and defend against alien threats. Carter is a great character representation of a woman scientist because she is intelligent, determined and a strong leader.


o Star Trek: The Next Generation: Beverly Crusher


Beverly Crusher was a medical doctor on board the USS Enterprise featured in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Beverly was well-liked and respected on the spaceship because of superior scientific knowledge and work ethic.


These are all great characters and positive representations of STEM in mainstream media, but don’t you agree that we need more? Tell us what you think! And if your favorite fictional female scientist is missing from our list, let us know by tweeting us @4womeninscience, using the #womeninscience hashtag.

L’Oréal–UNESCO
For Women in Science

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