We recently came across an outrageously entertaining series of comics called The Illustrated Women In Science by math and science teacher, and dad to two daughters, Dale DeBakcsy. The series, which features great historical and current scientists, celebrates the brilliance of these women and the “absurdities that too often surrounded them.”
Dale was first inspired to create the series when he noticed that a big part of his teaching style was to share anecdotes from the lives of various scientists to humanize the topic for his students, but he had virtually no sources for the lives of female scientists.
He explained to WYSK, “There were a number of promising girls in my class who were thinking about careers in science, and I wanted to have more stories to help inspire them, to aid them in seeing themselves in a laboratory or under a stack of partial differential equations.”
So Dale started building up a collection of female scientist biographies, and not just the expected ones. Dale made a concerted effort to find many nineteenth century and early twentieth century biographies of women whose memory was “slowly fading from the public consciousness.”
With his women in science shelf growing, Dale started to think of a way to make these women’s lives and their accomplishments available on a wider basis. In addition to his role as a teacher, Dale is also a seasoned webcomic creator. In his series Frederick the Great: A Most Lamentable Comedy Breaching Space and Time(written with Geoff Schaeffer), Dale uses the medium of comics to draw attention to various lesser-known figures of European history, and thought “why not do the same with women in science?” And The Illustrated Women In Science series was born.
Since 2014, Dale has been featuring each comic from this series on MadArtLab, an awesome site that is devoted to the intersection between art and science. This past January, he compiled the first year of his Women In Science illustrations into a fantastic, must have book.
“It’s a book for my students, and my two daughters, but really for anybody who is interested in how brilliant science can be done in the most appalling of social and cultural situations,” Dale told us. “On the whole each of these stories has been a true treat to find and devour, and a great joy to present in as compelling a manner as I can. The best, of course, is at conventions when people pick up the book and say, ‘I haven’t heard of half these people.’ That’s when I know I’ve done something useful.”
Here’s a selection of Dale’s favorite comics from his The Illustrated Women In Science series, along with his commentary.
Emmy Noether, who wasn’t allowed to lecture under her own name and didn’t get paid even after discovering the law that unites all the conservation laws we’ve ever discovered or ever will.
Isabel Morgan, who was on her way to developing a polio vaccine years before Salk but had to drop it when her husband had her leave her job so that she could follow him.
Marie Tharp, who watched her life’s work dismantled by committee in front of her eyes.
But for every tragedy, there is a triumph…
Maria Merian, a sixteenth century Dutch woman who self-financed an entomological expedition to the jungles of South America.
Fabiola Gianotti, who oversaw perhaps the most massive joint scientific endeavor of modern physics.
Belle Benchley, who invented the modern zoo and was beloved to her dying day.