Ellen combined a love for geoscience and her enthusiasm for LEGO® to inspire the LEGO® 'Research Institute'.
A geochemist originally from the Netherlands, Ellen’s interest in chemistry was sparked from her love for astronomy and using science to understand the world around her. After her undergraduate degree, Ellen undertook her PhD in Germany and continued her career in the US at the University of California as a postdoctoral researcher.
Currently working in Sweden, Ellen took the opportunity to advance her career, but in an age where experience is vital, Ellen questioned whether her postdoctoral career had given her the knowledge she needed.
“They were looking for a “senior” researcher and head of a national laboratory and I wasn’t sure I could call myself senior at age 30, only 3 years after finishing my PhD. I felt I was qualified though and I was looking for a new challenge so I decided to apply anyway.”
Ellen has embraced the challenge and has built the national laboratory for micro-analysis from scratch from her own vision.
Ellen has incorporated her love for science and LEGO® bricks to inspire the next generation of scientists through 'LEGO® Ideas'. She is the face behind the new LEGO® design called “Research Institute” which she has used to promote women in science. “I think displaying women in science in a popular toy can help convey the message to both girls and boys that it is perfectly normal for women to have these types of careers.”
The LEGO® project has “provided an excellent opportunity to reach out to younger girls,” and Ellen has also organised book clubs for female students to discuss challenges faced by women when pursuing careers in academia.
“I think it is important to teach them that academic abilities are not fixed, but expandable. Teachers have an important role and I think targeted constructive feedback can help build up children’s confidence in their abilities. Exposing children to female or minority role models who have successful careers is a good way to encourage them too.”
Words by Jenny Lovell
Images courtesy of Ellen Kooijman
Published October 2014