New Smithsonian #IfThenSheCan exhibit celebrates inspiring women in STEM with life-size statues

Washington-based museum, education and research institute, the Smithsonian, has unveiled a striking new exhibit to celebrate Women’s History Month

Launched alongside IF/THEN, an initiative designed to get more young women into STEM subjects, the ‘#IfThenSheCan’ display is composed of 120 life-sized statues of female role models in related fields. These bright orange 3D printed doppelgangers, which include a broad range of STEM innovators, are said by the Smithsonian to be the “largest collection of statues of women ever assembled together.”

“We are excited to highlight the work of these game-changing STEM innovators and help expand the narrative about who is leading in these fields,“ said Rachel Goslins, Director of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building. “These women are changing the world and providing inspiration for the generation that will follow them.”

The Smithsonian's #IfThenSheCan exhibit.
The Smithsonian’s #IfThenSheCan exhibit. Image via IF/THEN.

Getting young women into STEM 

Rather than celebrate Women’s History Month as it normally does, this year, the Smithsonian has shaken things up with a ‘Women’s Futures Month’ instead. Launched on March 5, 2022, the month-long festival is designed to encourage visitors to dream big and see themselves as ‘scientists-in-the-making,’ while meeting some of the women seeking to change the world with their research. 

As the first Women’s Futures Month exhibit, #IfThenSheCan is designed to highlight the achievements of those women that have excelled in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or ‘STEM.’ These figures include contemporary female innovators from a wide range of fields, varying from those campaigning for wildlife protection to the women trying to cure cancer. 

Of those immortalized in statue form, notable STEM leaders include Jessica Esquivel, one of only 150 black American women with a physics doctorate, and Karina Popovich, a student who 3D printed more than 82,000 pieces of PPE for health workers during the early stages of the pandemic, when such equipment was in especially short supply. 

Speaking to Today, one of the exhibit’s other inspirational figures, Rae Wynn-Grant, a National Geographic ecologist, explained how proud she was to be involved, and how visiting her statue with her daughter finally made her realize that all the hard work she’d poured into progressing within her field had paid off. 

“The depth of the honor is shocking,” Wynn-Grant told Today. “In the best way possible, it’s the deepest honor. It’s beyond money or fame. There is this symbolism and reverence that is indescribable.”

Some of the female inspirations behind the #IfThenSheCan exhibit standing next to their 3D printed statues.
More of the female inspirations behind the #IfThenSheCan exhibit standing next to their 3D printed statues. Image via IF/THEN.

At the exhibit itself, each statue is adorned with a unique QR code, so that visitors can learn about the inspiring personal stories of those behind the display. While many of these women come from different fields, they’ve each been chosen by Lyda Hill Philanthropies, the group behind IF/THEN, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science to be role models for middle school-aged girls. 

Said to have been selected via rigorous process that identified them as leaders in their respective fields with a commitment to inspiring the next generation, these women now serve as ambassadors, in a way that Lyda Hill, Founder of Lyda Hill Philanthropies, hopes will attract the attention of those girls across the US, seeking to break the mold. 

“What inspires someone to dream big, reach further, leap higher?” asked Hill in a statement issued alongside the event’s launch. “‘#IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit’ was a big idea that we created with the intention to reach young girls to spark their dreams and support their interest in science. We are deeply grateful to the Smithsonian to make these statues accessible to so many in our nation’s capital.”

Over the exhibit’s opening weekend, the lifelike 3D printed statues were dotted around the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building, Castle and adjacent Enid A. Haupt Garden, but from now on, they’ll be placed in its National Museum of Natural History and other locations along the National Mall. Those interested in checking out the exhibit can do so between now and March 27, 2022. 

The full list of IF/THEN STEM ambassadors can also be found via the Smithsonian website.

The Women in 3DPrinting gathering during RAPID + TCT in Detroit. Photo via Women in 3D Printing.
The Women in 3D Printing gathering during RAPID + TCT in Detroit. Photo via Women in 3D Printing.

Supporting women in 3D printing 

According to the non-profit organization Women in 3D Printing (Wi3DP), only 13% of those currently working in additive manufacturing and 11% of business owners in the industry are female. In an effort to try and rectify this imbalance, the group has therefore held events at its chapters all over the world, to give women leaders a platform on which they can share their experiences, expertise and visions. 

These have become such a success, that Wi3DP has begun holding its own summit, and recently put on its second annual TIPE 3D printing Conference. The show featured an all-female keynote lineup, and contributions from over 170 global industry insiders, including representatives of HP, Desktop Metal, Carbon, Henkel, Stratasys and more. 

Elsewhere, a number of other 3D printing organizations have also identified and sought to address the sector’s gender gap. America Makes, for instance, has previously partnered with the Girl Scouts of America to create a playbook for integrating 3D printing into scout programming, and collaborated with Ultimaker as well, to donate twenty 3D printers to young women in schools across the US. 

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Featured image shows the Smithsonian’s #IfThenSheCan exhibit. Image via IF/THEN.