Far more than mad scientists

The drawings children sent to 'Nysgjerrigper' in the 1990s generally depicted male scientists in laboratory situations. Most of the drawings were of chemists and so-called 'mad scientists'. None of the drawings showed female scientists at work. More than a decade later, 'Nysgjerrigper' has taken the temperature of children's attitudes to research and scientists by organising a new drawing competition.

tegn en forsker 1

In the early 1990s, the Research Council invited children from 7 to 15 years of age to draw scientists and research. From 1990 to 1993, several thousand drawings were submitted. At that time, the Nysgjerrigper Club had about 260 school classes as members in addition to some individual members.

Then the Nysgjerrigper Magazine was launched in 1994. Today, 11 years after the launch, more than 80 000 pupils in primary school have access to the magazine through class subscriptions and school libraries. Hopefully, the increase in membership has helped put science and research on the agenda in more classrooms.

But what about children's attitudes to research? Have they changed over the past decade? The international ROSE project is an example of a study that describes what 15-year-olds think about science, technology, research and researchers.

Draw a scientist anno 2005

Equipped with knowledge about ROSE and the drawings previously submitted to 'Nysgjerrigper', the Research Council and the Norwegian Space Centre introduced a new drawing competition on 15 February this year. This time, we invited children from 6 to 13 years of age to draw scientists.

The children themselves had to scan in their drawings and submit them electronically. So far, 225 drawings have been received (March to July). Based on these drawings, we hope to get an idea of children's attitudes to research. I want to underline that the results are a qualitative description of the material and not the outcome of a scientific survey.

New finds in 2005

Thus far, the aspiring artists consist of 57 per cent girls and 43 per cent boys, and this time round there are female scientists represented in the material. In fact, almost 30 per cent of the drawings depict female scientists in different research situations. Maren, age 8, says: “There are finally women scientists. Maybe I can be a scientist some day?” Interestingly, boys also draw female scientists, although 'mad scientists' are still well represented and are mainly drawn by boys.

Participants' creativity and imagination with a view to what can be investigated are impressive. Among other things, the material includes: cat scientists, horse scientists, colour scientists, moon scientists, laughter scientists, weather researchers, bacteria scientists, volcano scientists, shoe scientists, trend scientists, glasses scientists, rock music scientists, computer scientists, salmon louse scientists, school scientists, gangster scientists, troll scientists and coffee scientists.

tegn en forsker 2 To date, we have counted at least 60 different types of research, described in the children's own words. This means the 'mad' or even rather eccentric scientists the children drew in the 1990s now face competition. In 2005, a scientist can just as easily look like the illustration of this page, drawn by Martine, age 12.

Are the entries representative?

One question we ought to ask is whether the children who have made the drawings are primarily members of 'Nysgjerrigper'. Or, to put it differently: If most of the drawings have been submitted by Nysgjerrigper members, have Nysgjerrigper members a more varied and versatile perception of research and researchers than many other children? Although it is not possible to answer this based on the material, it is tempting to find out more about the participants and their backgrounds, interests and knowledge about research in order to shed light on the above-mentioned question.

New surveys indicate that Norwegians are more positive to research than before and that younger people are lesser sceptical than older people to science and technology, so maybe the finds from the competition are representative of 6- to 13-year-olds in Norway. While we are not certain, we are pleased to confirm that many children all over the country have a wide variety of views on research and researchers, that a growing number of female scientists were drawn, and that the children believe that research can be performed on almost anything.

Translation: Linda Sivesind