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More role models required to get girls into the lab

Teachers must do more to promote the achievements of women in science if girls are to be inspired to study the subject.

Open University research has found that of 41 six to 16-year-olds asked to draw a scientist, only six drew a woman. And seven out of 10 television cartoon characters who talked about science were men.

Another study, to be presented at the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology conference next month, shows the rise of the female character in forensic science series such as the BBC's Silent Witness.

"These shows have been inspiring young girls too, but I'm not sure how many jobs will be available in that area," said Annette Williams, the organisation's director.

History is rich with successful women scientists who are sometimes overlooked. Key figures include Rosalind Franklin, who was responsible for much of the work that led to the understanding of DNA, but lost out on the Nobel Prize to James D. Watson and Francis Crick. And Hedy Lamarr, the film star, co-invented an early form of spread spectrum, a key to modern wireless communication.

"Even Einstein's first wife, Mileva Maric, may have contributed to some of his research," said Ms Williams. "Girls generally outperform boys in science at GCSE, but they need role models when it comes to options time.";

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