Breakthrough Festival: A Celebration Of Women In STEM

From February 15 – 21, join Science Friday and 500 Women Scientists for a celebration amplifying the voices of women scientists.

event flyer which displays logos for Science Friday and 500 Women Scientists; below reads "Breakthrough Festival, February 15-21, 2021", with seven images at the bottom featuring women in various scientific settings; leftmost, a women holding a dinosaur fossil; fingers holding up a cone snail shell; a women wearing PPE and looking to her left; a women looking through a telescope below a purple sky; a woman smiling in front of aerial images of the Earth; a women hammering a PVC pile into the ground with a mallet; and a women in a lab smiling and crossing her arms.

Breakthrough Festival – February 15-21, 2021

  • When: February 15-21, 2021
  • Where: Online and at-home
  • Tickets: Free! Register for more info and reminders

Join Science Friday and 500 Women Scientists from February 15-21, 2021 for the week-long Breakthrough Festival, amplifying the voices of women scientists. Each day will focus on a different video from the Breakthrough series produced by Science Friday and HHMI Tangled Bank Studios. Learn about ancient birds, killer snails, epigenetics, accessibility in STEM, sneeze spread, help build community, and more. We’ll even have the chance to participate in a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon to expand representation of women in science.

The Breakthrough Festival is a science learning event series for all ages featuring interactive online activities and conversations highlighting equity and women in STEM. RSVP for any—or all!—of the events, and join the conversation online using the hashtags #BreakthroughFestival or tag @500womensci and @scifri.

The Breakthrough Festival has concluded, but you can rewatch the livestreams from the entire Festival on the Science Friday YouTube livestream playlist.


#KidsPaleoArt Day: Interactive Livestream

We’re kicking off the Breakthrough Festival with a dino draw-off! Learn a bit about how dinosaurs became birds, then practice your drawing skills with our hands-on activity for kids and caregivers. Breakthrough scientist Jingmai O’Connor studies how dinosaurs learned to fly, and in this livestream, you’ll learn how dinosaurs walked. Don’t forget to share with us your works-in-progress and final artworks with the hashtag #KidsPaleoArt.

We encourage attendees to watch the Breakthrough video featuring Jingmai O’Connor in advance of the event: The Avian Authority. All Breakthrough videos are family friendly!

If you want to create along with us, grab the following crafty materials:

  • Something to draw with (such as: crayons, pencil, pen, marker!)
  • Something to draw on (for example: printer paper, butcher paper, notebook!)

For our middle school-aged viewers, you can also gather:

  • 2-oz plastic mini cups
  • One 1.4-in foam ball
  • Toothpick
  • Rubber band
  • Scissors
  • Brass fastener
  • Cotton balls

From Killer Snail Chemists to Trauma Tracers: Breakthrough Q&A with Mandë Holford and Bianca Jones Marlin

What do killer snails and trauma have in common? Both are studied by Breakthrough scientists who want to better understand pain and trauma to lessen their hold on humans. Join Mandë Holford and Bianca Jones Marlin for a livestream discussion moderated by Nicole Williams from 500 Women Scientists. This is your chance to ask a venom scientist and a neuroscientist questions and hear about the leading-edge science they’re working on. You can also join the conversation online by using the hashtag #BreakthroughFestival.

We encourage attendees to watch the Breakthrough videos featuring Mandë Holford and Bianca Jones Marlin in advance of the event: The Killer Snail Chemist and The Trauma Tracer.

Mandë Holford (@scimaven) is an associate professor in Chemistry at CUNY Hunter College and The CUNY Graduate Center, with scientific appointments at the American Museum of Natural History and Weill Cornell Medicine. Her joint appointments reflect her interdisciplinary research, which goes from mollusks to medicine, combining chemistry and biology to discover, characterize, and deliver novel peptides from venomous marine snails for manipulating cellular physiology in pain and cancer. Her laboratory investigates the power of venom to transform organisms and to transform lives when it is adapted to create novel therapeutics for treating human diseases and disorders. Holford received her Ph.D. in Synthetic Protein Chemistry from The Rockefeller University.

Bianca Jones Marlin (@bjmarlin) is a neuroscientist and assistant professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Columbia University, and recently opened the Marlin Lab at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute. She holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the New York University School of Medicine, and dual bachelor degrees in biology and adolescent education from St. John’s University. As a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Richard Axel, she investigates transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, or how trauma in parents affect the brain structure and sensory experience of their future offspring. Jones Marlin is also a science communicator, including her work as a member of the #BlackInNeuro community.

This event is sponsored by Tucker-Davis Technologies.


Diversity in Tech: Breakthrough Instagram Live

  • When: February 17, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. ET / 10:00 a.m. PT
  • Where: 500WS’s Instagram (@500womensci)
  • Tickets: Free! Register for more info and reminders

Join Alison Marklein from the 500 Women Scientists leadership team as she interviews Angelica Pando, a software engineer at Newsela. Alison and Angelica will be focusing on the importance of diversity in tech and AI, and how we can use technology to build a more equitable society. After the Q&A, don’t forget to tell us why diversity matters to you using the hashtags #BreakthroughFestival and #DiversifyTech. 

We encourage attendees to watch the Breakthrough video featuring Allyson Sisler-Dinwiddie and Rene Gifford in advance of the event: Re-sounding Remedy.


Breakthrough Inclusive Action Toolkit Workshop

  • When: February 17, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT
  • Run time: ~90 minutes
  • Where: Science Friday’s Zoom meeting
  • Tickets: Free! RSVP spots are limited. Register for more info and reminders

Join the Science Friday Education team for an in-depth, interactive working group about advancing STEM inclusion in academia, working from strategies included in the Breakthrough Inclusive Action Toolkit, a compilation of research-backed strategies for making STEM more inclusive at higher education institutions like colleges and universities. Attendees will dive deep into the document, surface actionable steps for their STEM communities, share ideas and stress points, and suggest edits to the Toolkit with like-minded colleagues.

Registrants will be sent information on how to join the Zoom meeting about 1 week before the event, so make sure to RSVP today!

Please note:

  • There are only 40 spots available for this workshop.
  • We ask that all registrants for this workshop currently be working or studying at a college, university or other institution of higher education.
  • Sign-ups are first come, first served – we will let you know within one week of the event if you are confirmed or have been placed on the waitlist.
  • The Inclusive Action Toolkit will be sent in advance or can be downloaded on our website here. Attendees should plan to look through the toolkit before the workshop.

Perseverance Mars Landing: Breakthrough Watch Party

Science Friday and 500 Women Scientists are hosting their very own livestream as the Mars 2020 mission completes its trip to the Red Planet! We’ll talk about all kinds of space topics—searching for far-away galaxies, satellites and other space junk orbiting the Earth, and all things Mars news. Join the conversation online by using the hashtags #BreakthroughFestival and #CountdownToMars.

We encourage attendees to watch the Breakthrough videos featuring Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil and Kayla Iacovino in advance of the event: The Galaxy Hunter and The Volcano Trekker. All Breakthrough videos are family friendly!

Moriba Jah (@moribajah) is a space environmentalist and an associate professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at The University of Texas at Austin where he holds the Mrs. Pearlie Dashiell Henderson Centennial Fellowship in Engineering. His research program is focused on space safety, security, and sustainability. Moriba is a former Spacecraft Navigator for Mars mission from his days at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and has testified to congress on his work as related to Space Situational Awareness and Space Traffic Management.

Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil (@bmutlupakdil) is a Turkish astronomer and astrophysicist currently working as an NSF and KICP Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Chicago. Her research has led to a discovery of an extremely rare galaxy with a unique circular structure, which is now commonly referred to as Burçin’s Galaxy. Now, she is a lead member of several ambitious imaging surveys, and uses observations of dwarf galaxies to study the smallest dark matter halos, and how they get populated with stars.

Shannon Stirone (@shannonstirone) is a writer based in San Francisco, California. She specializes in science writing, with a particular lean towards all-things space and astronomy. Several of her pieces have been selected for the Best American Science and Nature Writing yearly anthologies.


Breakthrough: Connecting the Drops Watch Party

If you’re curious about how far sneezes travel, you aren’t alone. Because sneezing can spread infectious diseases like the flu and common cold, many scientists and doctors are interested in better understanding how far a sneeze can travel. Join Anila Yadavalli from 500 Women Scientists and Ariel Zych from Science Friday for a watch party of the Breakthrough film Connecting the Drops. After the video, Anila and Ariel will lead viewers through a hands-on demonstration about how mathematicians can model sneezes—no math experience required! Participants can choose to participate in the demo with some common household items, or just watch and ask questions. There will also be time for Q&A with an infectious disease expert!

Uché Blackstock (@uche_blackstock) is a Board-certified Emergency Medicine physician caring for patients on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as advocating for them in her role as Founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity, which partners with healthcare and related organizations to address racial health disparities. Dr. Blackstock was formerly an Associate Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and the Faculty Director for Recruitment, Retention and Inclusion in the Office of Diversity Affairs at NYU School of Medicine. She left NYU School of Medicine in December 2019 after 10 years on faculty to focus on Advancing Health Equity. Her writing has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Scientific American, the Washington Post and STAT News for the Boston Globe. Dr. Blackstock received both her undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard University.

If you want to test your sneeze squeeze velocity along with us, grab the following crafty materials:

  • Any squirter you can use to “sneeze” paint with (A dropper, pipette, spray bottle, turkey baster, clean ketchup or dish detergent bottles)
  • Water, washable paint, juice, anything wet = your “snot” (Try this paint recipe!)
  • Newspaper, printer or butcher paper, a drop cloth, tarp, or light-colored sidewalk

Bonus things (non-essentials): 

  • A tape measure or ruler
  • A couple facial tissues
  • Cornstarch, jello, or mashed potatoes (to make boogers!)
  • A smartphone that can do high-speed video to film sneezes

We will watch our featured Breakthrough video, Connecting the Drops, as part of this event, but attendees can always watch the video in advance of the event. All Breakthrough videos are family friendly!


Breakthrough Community Collaboration Day

  • When: February 20, 2021, all day
  • Where: Your home or local community
  • Tickets: Free! Register for more info and reminders

Let’s get out (or stay in) to better the world and our local communities as a part of the Breakthrough Festival. 

Attendees are encouraged to set up a socially-distanced trash pick-up, donate your time to local mutual aid organizations, or contribute to crowdsourced science projects. If you want to contribute and see how others are engaging in their communities, use the hashtag #BreakthroughFestival and live tweet what you are doing today. 

Want to try a crowdsourced science project but don’t know where to start? Here are a few of our recommendations:

  • ISeeChange on SciStarter – Discover how community observations about rainfall, new spring flowers, and even how one feels can be valuable data for climate science—plus, how tracking that data benefits us all.
  • Mapping Historic Skies on Zooniverse – The Adler Planetarium collections team have digitized more than 4,000 historical constellation maps and depictions—and now they need our help identifying all depictions of each constellation.
  • Seek by iNaturalist – Seek is a great way to get started identifying wildlife, plants, and fungi. You can even earn badges for observing different types of species and participating in challenges. This is a great project for young explorers!

You can find lots more crowdsourced science projects on SciStarter and Zooniverse.

We encourage attendees to get inspired about how important our environment is by watching the Breakthrough videos featuring Karletta Chief and Africa Flores-Anderson in advance of the event: Bitter Water and The Lake Sentinel. All Breakthrough videos are family friendly!


Breakthrough Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon Day

  • When: February 21, 2021 at 12:00 p.m. ET / 9:00 a.m. PT
  • Where: Science Friday’s Zoom meeting
  • Tickets: Free! Register for more info and reminders

Help us make Wikipedia a better place by celebrating the achievements of Black women and non-binary researchers leading in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine)! Join us on February 21 to learn how to edit Wikipedia to improve and create pages that recognize and honor the achievements of these outstanding scholars. No experience necessary! Wikipedia editors Jess Wade and Maryam Zaringhalam will lead you through how to make your first edits before editing away with a community of fellow science enthusiasts. For resources and to help us track our impact, register on 500 Women Scientists’ dashboard. Follow the conversation with the hashtag #BreakthroughFestival.

Registrants will be sent information on how to join the Zoom meeting about 1 week before the event, so make sure to RSVP today!

Jess Wade (@jesswade) is a physicist currently working as an Imperial College Research Fellow, where she researches new materials for electronic devices. Her public engagement work in STEM champions women in physics, as well as tackling systemic biases such as gender and racial bias on Wikipedia. To date, she has created over 1,000 Wikipedia entries for women in STEM.

Maryam Zaringhalam (@webmz_) is a biologist who works in science policy, communication, and advocacy. She is a senior producer for The Story Collider and serves on the leadership team for 500 Women Scientists.

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Diana Montano is the Outreach Manager at Science Friday, where she crafts live events to delight and engage audiences in the world of science.

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