Picture a Scientist brings the struggles of women in science to screen

With major funding from the Heising-Simons Foundation and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the film Picture a Scientist is breaking new ground by virtually launching in theaters across North America on June 12th. The independent documentary follows a groundswell of researchers who are writing a new chapter for women scientists. Picture a Scientist will show through June 26 in select theaters nationwide, which are each providing exclusive links to the full film online.

Featuring geologist Jane Willenbring, chemist Raychelle Burks, and biologist Nancy Hopkins, as well as key social scientists working to understand and reduce gender discrimination in the sciences, Picture a Scientist brings diversity in science into sharp view at a critical time. The current pandemic is a call to action for scientists to work together globally, with a multitude of different perspectives, to defeat COVID-19. For too long, women and other minorities in science have been left out or driven out, stymied by a system of harassment, discrimination, and general bias. “Any impediment to advancing minorities in science is an impediment to science itself,” says Sharon Shattuck, co-director of Picture a Scientist.

Scheduled to premiere at the postponed 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, Picture a Scientist paints a nuanced, emotional but unflinching portrait of the struggles women in science have faced, in recent decades up to today. The film challenges audiences of all backgrounds and genders to question their own implicit biases and move toward change.

“The issues that disproportionately affected women in STEM two decades ago unfortunately still exist today. By sharing these experiences, we can all improve and collectively change the climate and culture in STEM for the better,” says Cyndi Atherton, Director of the Heising-Simons Foundation’s science program. “What we get from this film, and from these women telling their critical stories, is something that has the potential to change the world.”

“We are proud to support this important story about the pervasive harassment of women in STEM,” says Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “In addition to ongoing funding for Science on Screen, the Foundation provided significant production support for this compelling film that will hopefully bring a critical but underappreciated issue to a wider public.”

The film’s award-winning directors Ian Cheney (THE CITY DARK, THE SEARCH FOR GENERAL TSO, THE MOST UNKNOWN) and Sharon Shattuck (FROM THIS DAY FORWARD, ANIMATED LIFE SERIES), along with the film’s three star scientists, will participate in a virtual Q&A on June 17th made available through the Coolidge Corner Theater in Massachusetts. Radiolab producer and guest host Molly Webster will moderate the discussion. The virtual launch will kick off community screenings, and a series of online conversations with scientists worldwide. The film is also part of the Sloan Foundation’s Science on Screen grant program. It was Executive Produced by Amy Brand.

“As we see today, science requires constantly challenging our own assumptions,” Shattuck says. “And that must be true not only for the discoveries and breakthroughs but also for the people who are encouraged to make them.”


To request a screening, contact producer Manette Pottle: [email protected] Learn more on the film’s website.


Principal funding was provided by the Heising-Simons Foundation. A family foundation based in California, the Heising-Simons Foundation works with its many partners to advance sustainable solutions in climate and clean energy, enable groundbreaking research in science, enhance the education of our youngest learners, and support human rights for all people. The goal of the Foundation’s women in physics and astronomy grantmaking is to increase the number of women in these fields, both in colleges and in academic and research careers in the United States.

Major funding for the film was also provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a non-profit philanthropy that makes grants for original research and education in science, technology, and economics. Sloan’s program in Public Understanding of Science and Technology supports books, radio, film, television, theater, and new media to reach a wide, non-specialized audience and to bridge the two cultures of science and the humanities. Its nationwide film program supports twelve film schools and six screenplay development partners and has resulted in over 600 film projects and over 25 feature films.

This theatrical release is part of the ongoing Science on Screen partnership between the Coolidge Corner Theater and the Sloan Foundation. Since its launch in 2011, the program has awarded 237 grants to 86 nonprofit cinemas across the country. Science on Screen features classic, cult, science fiction, and nonfiction films provocatively matched with presentations by experts who discuss scientific, technological, or medical issues raised by each film. The program aims to inspire in audience-members an increased appreciation for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Additional funding for the film production was provided by Nancy Blachman, Anonymous, Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program with support from Sandbox Films, The New York State Council on the Arts, The Wonder Collaborative, Chicken & Egg Pictures, The Educational Foundation of America, Erica Brand and Adam Brand, The Benevity Community Impact Fund, Mar Hershenson, Kate Korsh, and Jennifer Kane.


Raychelle Burks, Ph.D. is a professor of analytical chemistry at American University in Washington, D.C., formerly at St. Edwards University in Austin, TX. Her research focuses on developing low-cost colorimetric sensors for detecting chemicals of forensic interest, including explosives and regulated drugs. As a science communicator, Burks has appeared on the Science Channel’s Outrageous Acts of Science, the American Chemical Society’s Reactions videos, Royal Society of Chemistry podcasts, and at genre conventions such as DragonCon and GeekGirlCon. Burks was awarded the 2020 American Chemical Society Grady-Stack award for excellence in public engagement.

Nancy Hopkins, Ph.D. is a molecular biologist and professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is known for her research identifying the role genes play in longevity and cancer predisposition in adult fish, as well as for her work promoting equality of opportunity for women scientists in academia. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Jane Willenbring, Ph.D. is a geomorphologist and professor of geology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and director of the Scripps Cosmogenic Isotope Laboratory. Willenbring’s research examines the evolution of the Earth’s surface, especially how landscapes are affected by tectonics, climate change, and life on Earth. She is a 2018 Geological Society of America Fellow, and the recipient of the Antarctica Service Medal and the National Science Foundation CAREER Award.

Media Contact
Lisa M.P. Munoz

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