When literature portrays women scientists

Can you think of a fictional heroine who also happens to be a scientist? The woman scientist is an elusive character in popular fiction. Scientist protagonists overwhelmingly tend to be male. Happily, though, not all of them are. From a cryptographer, to an astrophysicist, DiscovHER picks five fictional women scientist characters in literature!

The Da Vinci Code, (Dan Brown): Sophie Neveu Saint-Clair, cryptographer

Sophie Neveu Saint-Clair is a French National Police cryptographer – she masters the techniques of secret writing, code and cyphers. Throughout the best-selling Da Vinci Code, Saint-Clair attempts to decrypt the message left by her grandfather just before he died. The book is built around the research of this brave and tenacious woman and her fellow mystery-solver Robert Langdon – whom she helps to elude from French Police. What Saint-Clair is going to discover propels the whole story forward.


Jurassic Park, The Lost World (Michael Crichton): Dr Ellen Sattler, paleo-botanist

Dr Ellie Sattler is a student paleo-botanist who decides to study at Snakewater – a fictional city in Montana with a paleontological center. She is described in the novel as a 23-year-old woman, who is courageous, intrepid, and is not afraid to get her hands dirty. She is proof that the character of the female explorer can be equal to that of the male explorer. By “The Lost World” however, Sattler is portrayed in less favourable terms: “…That paleo-botanist Sattler…James had sat through one of her lectures at Berkley and had barely been able to stay awake.”


Millenium series (Stieg Larsson): Lisbeth Salander, computer hacker

Salander is a super hacker. Under the codename "Wasp", she is a key player in the international hacker community, known as the Hacker Republic. She uses her computer skills to earn a living, carrying out investigative work. She has an eidetic memory, and is skilful at masking her identity, holding passports under different names and adopting physical disguises in order to travel undetected. She is the unapologetic hero of the Millennium series, of which the fourth instalment is due to be published late August.


The Witching Hour (Anne Rice): Dr Rowan Mayfair, neurosurgeon

Dr Rowan Mayfair is the main character of the first novel in the “Lives of the Mayfair Witches” series. She is a brilliant neurosurgeon from California who can communicate with ghosts. In order to understand the origin of her mysterious power, Dr Rowan uses her scientific skills to study genetic mutations.


Contact (Carl Sagan): Eleanor Arroway, astrophysicist

Eleanor Arroway, the main character in Contact, has always had a strong aptitude for science. She graduates from Harvard University and gains a PhD from the California Institute of Technology supervised by the radio astronomer David Drumlin, after which. She eventually becomes the director of "Project Argus", a radio telescope array in New Mexico dedicated to the Search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI). While as an astrophysicist, her views and interpretations come in for a question, the story starts and ends with her.


Tell us who is your favorite fictional woman scientist at @4womeninscience!

L’Oréal–UNESCO
For Women in Science

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