Aja Procita ’18 (left) and Ira Globus-Harris ’18 (right) paint the faces of important female physicists.
Aja Procita ’18 (left) and Ira Globus-Harris ’18 (right) paint the faces of important female physicists.

The New Faces in the Physics Building

A new mural features prominent women in STEM fields

By Alejandro Chávez ’17 | August 21, 2017

Students arriving in the physics building  will be greeted by some new faces this fall. The stairwell to the second floor now boasts a mural of five female scientists: Emmy Noether, Chien-Shiung Wu, Katherine Johnson, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, and Jocelyn Bell Burnell. 

The idea for the mural first took shape in the spring of 2017, when the Feminist Student Union put up posters in the science buildings with images of women of color in STEM fields, in an effort to raise the visibility of their presence in the field. Ella Banyas ’17 (Physics), Ira Globus-Harris ’18 (CS-Math), and Aja Procita ’18 (Math-Physics) were inspired. The trio had noticed a mostly blank stairwell sandwiched by two murals. They did some research and found five scientists to feature.  Their discussions about this project were overheard by a faculty member, who offered to pay for the project with department funds.

The trio tracked down high-quality black-and-white photos of the scientists, and projected them onto the wall. After tracing the scientists’ faces on a white background, they filled in their tracings with grey and black paint to finish the drawings. Aja Procita ‘18 said that although the task might seem hard, she noticed that your brain has a tendency to fill faces in.

The mural process began around August 11th and was finished by Orientation Week. The Physics stairwells are no strangers to murals, but they are all from the early 2000’s. These new murals will join several murals of other important (all male) scientists, a mural of the earth on its axis and a few Dr. Seuss characters.

Ella, Ira and Aja are all prominent members of STEM GeMs (STEM Gender Minorities) and they do not plan to stop with this mural, there are more empty walls in that stairwell as well as more space in the current wall. The next additions hope to focus on more Women of Color and LGBT scientists. In the past 36 years, only 106 Hispanic women, 66 Black women and 6 Native American women have received Physics PhD’s in the United States. Ella, Ira and Aja hope this project will, at Reed, increase the visibility of underrepresented groups in Physics.

Tags: Students, Diversity/Inclusion, Cool Projects