Dr. Kate Biberdorf AKA "Kate the Chemist": Associate Professor of Instruction
The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Dr. Kate Biberdorf to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.
#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?
Dr. Kate Biberdorf: I am trying to diminish the stigma around women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), by traveling across the United States performing explosive science demonstrations for kids.
#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?
KB: Fall 2014. It was surprising to me that many of my students were shocked by my appearance. They did not look at me and immediately think “scientist” or “chemist” or “pyromaniac.” It became very important to me to show them a different version of a scientist.
#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?
KB: I was surprised by how frequently men would speak over me in meetings or at conferences. I am grateful for the other women in the room who would advocate for me by asking, “What were you trying to say?” or “Aren’t you that woman that blows things up on tv?” My female colleagues gave me the confidence to use my voice and persevere through these tough situations. Needless to say, men rarely speak over me now.
#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?
KB: Easy question. My students. I absolutely love interacting with students of any age group. Elementary students have an excitement for science that is contagious, whereas my college students have this thirst for knowledge. The internet provides a topical explanation for many things in STEM; therefore, I love when a student contacts me asking for more information about something they learned outside of my classroom.
#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?
KB: I hope that young women know that ANYONE can be a scientist. You can wear high heels and a skirt, and still love explosions and fire. If you have a question, you are a scientist.
#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?
KB: It is very important for young women to be able to see a relatable figure in STEM. If they can see it, then they can believe it. I want every young girl to see me thriving in the world of chemistry, and know that there is nothing wrong with being a feminine nerd.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.