Review: Jina and the STEM Sisters

This new show from HMDT Music, directed by Clare Whistler, should have been touring live to primary schools, but now the puppet musical has now been filmed and rethought for digital presentation.

Jina and the STEM Sisters is the story of young aspiring scientist Jina, who meets key women from the fields of Science, Tech, Engineering and Maths (STEM) as she tries to find her way home. Rachel Barnett-Jones writes a narrative that entertains and educates, with music by Jenny Gould.

After a brief explanation of their place in STEM history, the sisters offer her gifts which will make her grow towards her goal. The information about each pioneer is imparted as the story progresses, and pitched to pull out key facts that will inspire Jina in her own career aspirations, and give those watching a sense of what they themselves can achieve.

Ada Lovelace in Jina and the STEM Sisters

The academic areas covered by the STEM label still favour men to some degree. Female Nobel prizewinners in Physics number just four, in Chemistry just seven. Marie Curie was the first to be recognised in both of these scientific fields, and she is quite possibly the best known of the STEM sisters. Her story has been documented for stage and screen on several occasions.

A study in the journal Engineering & Technology last year noted only 12% of engineers in the UK are female, while the Abel Prize for Mathematics was not awarded to a woman until Karen Uhlenbeck (1942- ) in 2019, and the Fields Medal in the same field has one female recipient, Maryam Mirzakhani (1977-2017).

Hypatia in Jina and the STEM Sisters

Jina is the recipient of five gifts as she seeks to find her way home: curiosity, persistence, creativity, courage, and open-mindedness. These are portrayed as essential tools to an aspiring scientist, and delivered in a range of musical styles (credited singers are Nadine Benjamin, Jessica Gillingwater, Abigail Kelly, and Susan Moore).

The eight STEM Sisters are from different fields and time periods: Hypatia (360-415, mathematician); Caroline Herschel (1750-1848, astronomer), Wang Zhenyi (1768-1797, scientist), and Mae Jemison (1956- , engineer and astronaut); Maria Sybilla Merian (1647-1717, naturalist); Ada Lovelace (1815-1852, mathematician and early computer pioneer); Marie Curie (1867-1934, physicist and chemist); Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000, inventor).

Hedy Lamarr in Jina and the STEM Sisters

Jina and the STEM Sisters is a charming educational tool which will hopefully inspire young children to find out more about their pioneering sisters in science, and how they overcame obstacles and preconceptions in their way.

The film itself, beautifully photographed and scored, with exemplary puppet work, was filmed under lockdown conditions which included the two puppeteers (Ruth Calkin and Nix Wood) wearing masks and the I Can Sing! Children’s Chorus being segregated in different rooms.

Jina and the STEM Sisters is available here from 15 March-11 April (tickets from £10). It is aimed at primary school children and their families, and brings the history and achievements of unheralded women in the STEM space to the fore.

Image credit: Clive Barda

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Jina and the STEM Sisters.

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