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10 Math-tastic Movie and TV Heroines: STEM Role Models For Girls

Math isn’t just for nerds anymore! Check out these 10 powerhouse women in movies and television who use math (as well as science, engineering, and technology!) in some awesomely creative ways to save the day.

1. Katherine Johnson, Hidden Figures
(portrayed by Taraji P. Henson)

Katherine Johnson, Hidden Figures
(Image courtesy of Empire)

Why she’s math-tastic: This real-life math-savvy navigation expert was in charge of ensuring that John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit Earth, was able to perform his mission without a hitch. Celestial navigation requires all kinds of math, from determining coordinates to making sure the space ship stays on course.

Reality check: You can be a celestial navigator yourself with a bit of math, just by grabbing a couple simple tools and gazing at the stars.

2. Beverly Crusher, Star Trek: The Next Generation
(portrayed by Gates McFadden)

Beverly Crusher, Star Trek: The Next Generation  (portrayed by Gates McFadden)

Why she’s math-tastic: Beverly Crusher is the Chief Medical Officer of Starship Enterprise, tasked with assuring that the crew stays in top shape. This futuristic physician uses an array of STEM skills to go boldly where no woman has ever gone before!

Reality check: NASA does actually employ a handful of physicians, both as consultants and (remote) surgeons. Check out this video of a NASA doctor discussing providing medical care to astronauts in space.

3. Hermione Granger, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
(portrayed by Emma Watson)

Hermione Granger, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (portrayed by Emma Watson)
(Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Why she’s math-tastic: Harry and Ron’s sharp-witted gal-pal often digs her friends out of dangerous situations using her mastery of the magical arts. There are many times when Hermione is the real hero in the Harry Potter stories and movies-and by using her STEM superpowers! Just one example when math and science were involved: She solved Snape’s potions riddle to figure out which potions were safe to drink.

Reality check: Mathemagicians (yes, that’s a thing!) use math to perform tricks that are more than just slight of hand, such as this nifty number game.

4. Bumblebee, Teen Titans
(voiced by T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh)

Bumblebee, Teen Titans

Why she’s math-tastic: This sharp-witted heroine uses her brains rather than her might to fight off foes. Her repertoire ranges from double-agent spy to scrappy fighter. She can shrink down to the size of an insect for recon or use her solar-powered sonic blasts to plow through enemies, and to top it off she’s an established scientist.

Reality check: Solar power is good for more than Bumblebee’s sonic blasts. Did you know we can use solar energy every day for things like heating our houses and powering our TVs?

5. Penny, Inspector Gadget
(portrayed by Michelle Trachtenberg)

Penny, Inspector Gadget
(Image courtesy of Disney)

Why she’s math-tastic: Inspector Gadget’s precocious niece, the true hero of the series, uses her laptop and video watch to help him kick some serious villain butt from behind the scenes. Though Inspector Gadget often takes all of the credit, Penny has the brains and math skills to be a top-notch detective.

Reality check: Detectives use inverse reasoning to solve crimes by analyzing the evidence to determine what occurred. Here are some ways you can use inverse reasoning in real life to help make the world a better place.

6. Dr. Ryan Stone, Gravity
(portrayed by Sandra Bullock)

Dr. Ryan Stone, Gravity (portrayed by Sandra Bullock)
(Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Why she’s math-tastic: An astronaut on her first mission, Dr. Ryan Stone has her wit and resolve tested as a biomedical engineer when she is forced to grapple with the dangers that outer space holds. From upgrading the Hubble Space Telescope to using a fire extinguisher as a makeshift thruster, Dr. Ryan Stone is always using math to get herself out of tight situations.

Reality check: Astronauts use astrophysics-and a lot of math-to keep their spacecrafts in the air. Determining how the ship leaves Earth’s atmosphere, how to navigate the aircraft, and what safety precautions need to be taken to ensure a successful journey are just a few of the ways astronauts use math every day. According to the first female astronaut, Sally Ride, “There’s something magical about pushing the frontiers of knowledge.” Astronauts are constantly putting themselves at risk to push the limits of what humans know, and that’s what makes them truly heroic.

7. Susan Calvin, I, Robot
(portrayed by Bridget Moynahan)

Susan Calvin, I, Robot (portrayed by Bridget Moynahan)
(Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Why she’s math-tastic: When the world is being taken over by machines, it’s up to this robopsychologist to save the day. Able to determine and analyze the emotions of robots, this fast-acting heroine has all of the courage and brains to take down the menacing machines trying to enslave the human race.

Reality check: While robopsychology isn’t a real career path (yet!), it may be some day. As humans get more and more immersed in the world of electronics, it’s becoming crucial to analyze how humans interact with their computer companions. As our machines get smarter, one has to question just what they are thinking.

8. Samantha Carter, Stargate
(portrayed by Amanda Tapping)

Samantha Carter, Stargate (portrayed by Amanda Tapping) (Image courtesy of MGM Television)

Why she’s math-tastic: Prolific astrophysicist and captain of the SG-1, Samantha uses her mathematics capabilities to lead the SG-1 crew on safe journeys. Her knowledge of various technologies and ability to keep a level head make her the perfect captain.

Reality check: Astrophysicists use math in practically everything they do. They determine distances to objects in space, their temperatures, and their compositions. They are also tasked with modeling evolving systems and even do theoretical work on spacetime and the evolution of the universe. These guys and gals do it all, and we couldn’t have successful space travel without them.

9. Sandy Cheeks, Sponge Bob Square Pants
(voiced by Carolyn Lawrence)

Sandy Cheeks, Sponge Bob Square Pants (voiced by Carolyn Lawrence)
(Image courtesy of Paramount Television)

Why she’s math-tastic: This Texas-tough underwater squirrel has the brains and brawn to pack a punch. An esteemed inventor, avid body builder, and enthused karate fan, Sandy is constantly proving to her marine cohorts that she’s a force to be reckoned with. She even created her own biodome and wetsuit so she can survive and conduct research in the friendly neighborhood of Bikini Bottom.

Reality check: You don’t have to be a cheeky squirrel to be an inventor. All you need is a little math and you’re well on your way to being the next Sandy Cheeks. Figuring out how to design and create inventions in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible takes calculated data analysis that can only be achieved through mathematics. But the cool thing is, anyone can be an inventor if you put your mind to it and get creative.

10. Bulma, Dragon Ball Z (voiced by Tiffany Vollmer)

Bulma, Dragon Ball Z (voiced by Tiffany Vollmer)
(Image courtesy of FUNimation)

Why she’s math-tastic: Surrounded by super-powered friends and foes alike, you’d think this average human wouldn’t be much help, however, this girl is anything but ordinary. Strong-willed and always up for a challenge, Bulma is tasked with engineering space crafts, creating training facilities, and everything in between to make sure her friends are prepared to fend off the scourge of the galaxy.

Reality check: Engineers are good for more than just fighting alien baddies! Did you know that engineers use math to ensure that their inventions run at peak efficiency? You can’t problem-solve without understanding how systems work, and that’s exactly what these math heroes and heroines do to make sure their creations are ready for action.

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