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LEGO Reveals Female Scientist Minifigures

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Box front of the new LEGO Ideas "Research Institute" set

After much rejoicing at the news last month that LEGO would mass-produce a set of female scientist minifigures, the company has released a prototype of the final set to its original designer, Ellen Kooijman (a.k.a. Alatariel Elensar), who recently posted images of the box and individual parts on her blog.

Kooijman, a Dutch isotope geochemist and LEGO enthusiast, received her advance copy roughly two years after uploading her design for a set of 13 female minifigures to the LEGO Ideas incubator site, formerly known as CUUSOO. The resulting “Research Institute” set, featuring three of Kooijman’s original 13 figures, will be available for purchase from LEGO later this summer.

“I’m extremely excited to have the final set in hand,” writes Kooijman, who also visited the LEGO headquarters in Billund, Denmark, to discuss the set with several of the company’s product designers. “I can easily see the science stories unfolding, but maybe that’s just my nerdy imagination.”

Three female scientist minifigures are included in LEGO Ideas' new "Research Institute" set

As we learned last month, the set includes three scientists: a paleontologist, a chemist, and an astronomer, along with instruments or examples of their work. The minifigures were based on Kooijman’s design, but LEGO clearly tried to repurpose as many existing elements as possible for the final figures. As such, the scientists each don previously released hair and torsos, with the exception of a newly designed lab coat for the chemist. I was happily surprised to find a double-sided head on each — a much appreciated feature that gives additional opportunities for storytelling and paints a realistic picture of scientists as normal people who experience the same frustrations and anxieties as everyone else.

I’m pleased that LEGO kept plainclothes on two of the three models. Also notable is the fact that, as with Kooijman’s original design, only one of the scientists wears glasses (and even those may be considered safety goggles). Among other things, this sets a smart example for children that being a scientist is more than a stereotypically “nerdy” endeavor. Since 2010, I have custom-designed minifigures of actual scientists and others in STEM communication, and it is no mistake that very few of them wear outfits that scream, “scientist.” (The new Research Institute astronomer, with her grey blazer and fuchsia scarf, actually bears a rather striking resemblance to my minifig of Harvard physicist Lisa Randall.) Together with the This is What a Scientist Looks Like blog, these projects support the idea that science is a common, everyday endeavor. They also encourage the public — especially youngsters — to embrace the concept of scientists as action-figure heroes.

It’s thrilling to see this set come to fruition after a whirlwind of public activism following the release two and a half years ago of LEGO’s controversial girl-focused Friends line. I highly recommend reading the full text of Kooijman’s post to get a feel for her thinking when designing these minifigures, and for additional details about what’s included. Finally, for those of you who, like me, are eager to get your hands on a copy of the Research Institute set, the wait is almost over; all indications point to its public availability by the end of August.

Photos courtesy of Ellen Kooijman.

Maia Weinstock About the Author: Maia Weinstock is an editor and writer specializing in science and children's media. She is the Deputy Editor at MIT News, the news office of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has previously worked at BrainPOP, Discover,, Aviation Week & Space Technology, and Science World. Maia is a strong advocate for girls and women, particularly in the areas of science, technology, politics, and athletics. She is an active member of Wikimedia New England and has led various efforts to increase the participation and visibility of women on Wikipedia. Maia also spearheads a number of media projects, including Scitweeps, a photo set depicting scientists and sci/tech popularizers in LEGO. She holds a degree in Human Biology from Brown University. Follow on Twitter @20tauri.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Comments 3 Comments

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  1. 1. Curlye 10:25 pm 07/11/2014

    Where are the women of color-Afro-American???

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  2. 2. jmbader 5:48 pm 07/13/2014

    This is a step in the right direction, but are we to assume all scientists wear lipstick and mascara? The facial expressions strike me as decidedly odd; how about just generic faces with neutral or slightly smiling expressions? At least no one is wearing a pink outfit! And thank you for putting these women in the “hard” sciences. -from a physicist who happens to be female

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  3. 3. idnapper 10:26 am 07/14/2014

    So long hair makes these figures female? As a long-haired male I would take exception to that stereotype. Maybe it’s the lipstick? The cosmetic industry will be thrilled with the perpetuation of the myth that females must apply something to themselves to make them truly feminine.

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