13 year old Anushka Naikaware from Beaverton, Oregon recently placed in 8th in the international Google Science Fair, a program that challenges teenagers to create scientific and technological inventions. Winner of the LEGO Education Builder Award and the youngest participant to win one of Google’s global prizes, Anushka received a $15,000 scholarship, the opportunity to travel to LEGO headquarters in Denmark, and mentoring by a LEGO executive for an entire year.
Naikaware invented a bandage that can alert doctors and nurses when it needs to be changed. Dressings on particularly large wounds need to be kept moist, but frequently peeling back and replacing bandages to maintain moisture can actually make the wound worse. To address this problem, Anushka invented a bandage embedded with tiny monitors to detect when moisture levels drop. She created the sensors by printing a pattern using ink that contains graphene nanoparticles. The simple invention will allow many patients suffering from chronic wounds to recover more quickly.
Anushka is an inspiration to young girls everywhere seeking to pursue a career in STEM fields. Currently, only 24% of STEM jobs are held by women. The United States has seen 0% growth in women’s share of the STEM workforce since 2000, despite the fact positions in STEM grew by 8% between 2000 and 2010.
Many women encounter sexism in STEM fields as undergraduate students. One civil engineer student Sierra Gernhart said she had a great experience at the University of Washington, but felt that she had “to be perfect” in order to be seen as competent by her male colleagues.
UC Hastings Law professor Joan C. Williams found in a study of women in STEM occupations that “women need to behave in masculine ways in order to be seen as competent.” Yet women in her study reported backlash from their male peers when they acted in perceived masculine ways, such as “speaking their minds or being decisive.” This double standard makes it more difficult for women to enter into male dominated STEM professions. Hopefully, with the help of inspirational young women like Anushka, girls will be encouraged to continue to pursue the academic passions of their choice.