There aren't enough women scientists in the real world or in fiction, and movies and television often relegate lady scientists to arm candy and exposition dumps. But in some science fiction, you'll find female scientists who are brilliant, tenacious and get the job done by their own power. These are exactly the role models we'd love to have for young women trying to figure out what they want to be when they graduate: they're relatively principled, sane and not working toward overly selfish or nefarious goals. Here is a list of female scientists you wouldn't mind your kids — or yourself — growing up to be.
1. Susan Calvin, I, Robot As the main character of Asimov's ground breaking I, Robot short story collection - where the three laws of robotics first appeared, Dr. Calvin is a luminary in science fiction. As a pioneer and the preeminent practitioner of Robopsychology she was called in to solve problems no other engineer or scientist in the vast US Robots and Mechanical Men could. She is inspiring because she rose to great professional heights and fame despite the outright chauvinism she faced in the good ole boy 1950's inspired world she inhabited. Her general misanthropy and unsentimental outlook makes her strong and interesting character able to sharply reason and overcome not only challenging technical problems but also overcome a world unappreciative of intelligent women.
2. Samantha Carter, Stargat SG-1 Dr. Samantha Carter is not only a brilliant astrophysicist with a deep knowledge of quantum mechanics but a pilot with over 100 hours of experience in enemy airspace at the start of Stargate SG-1. Sam played a key role in getting the Stargate operational with her work on the dialing computer and stepped out of the lab to be a key member on missions through the gate. She was at times the head of the SG-1 team, the commander of the Atlantis Team and the commander of the spaceship George Hammond. Through the various series she rose from the rank of Captain to Colonel. She combines a brilliant scientific mind with strong leadership abilities and the ability to handle herself in combat.
3. Princess Bubblegum, Adventure Time Don't let all that pink and puffy sleeved dresses fool you, Princess Bubblegum has a hungry scientific mind that presses her into continual experimentation. Her experiments often seem to run into mad scientist territory with her obsessions with creating new life like Lemongrab, animating the dead or trying to create an immortal guardian like Goliad, but she never comes off as a mad scientist thanks to her poise and cultured appearance. She is a model of responsibility and duty as she cares for her kingdom and attempts to improve her subject's lives with science and service. She also tries to foster science (and show her own abilities) by sponsoring science fairs, shows and music concerts based on math.
4. Eleanor Arroway, Contact Ellie Arroway, the main character of Carl Sagan's Contact book and movie, is an astrophysicist and radio telescope engineer in charge of the Argus project that is searching for extraterrestrial life. She eschewed traditional science to pursue her passion for SETI. After making contact with aliens and deciphering blueprints for a mysterious machine sent by them, she used her sheer stubbornness and intense belief in science to convince the world governments to build the machine. She is a skeptic that questions the world and pushes hard for scientific answers. After the first American slated to use the machine was killed by sabotage Ellie stepped up to face the unknown danger of the machine and the more mundane terror of fanatics trying to stop the project.
5. Jadzia Dax, Deep Space 9 While in Starfleet Academy Jadzia earned Premier Distinctions in astrophysics, exoarchaeology, exobiology and zoology even before she became host to her ageless symbiote, Dax, and his accumulated learning. She served as a science officer aboard Deep Space 9 eventually receiving the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Truthfully it is hard to recall her actually doing any science despite her spiffy blue uniform. She is however an amazing character that any little girl would want to grow up and be. She could go toe to toe with Worf, command a ship and match wits with Quark while playing Tongo. She was a bon vivant but was always collected and controlled. Jadzia Dax was a strong woman by any standard and being gifted scientist is a cherry on top.
6. Liara T'soni, Mass Effect -Prior to the events of the Mass Effect video game series Dr. T'soni spent 50 years studying Prothean culture and technology, becoming one of the foremost experts in the field. She can help in a lab and handle herself in a firefight. In the comics she comes into her own as a strong and capable character able to balance her own agenda against hostile forces. She is fiercely loyal to friends, tracking down Shepard's body when everyone else had given him up and freeing Feron. Liara has a great story arc of growing from a bookish and sheltered girl into the powerful and self-realized Shadow Broker. Her research abilities and knowledge provide vital information that gives the galaxy a chance in the ultimate conflict of the franchise.
7. Helen Magnus, Sanctuary To begin with, Helen Magnus achieving her medical doctorate during the Victorian age as one of the first female surgeons and scientist makes her a commendable character. She then spends the next 150 years or so working on cutting edge science and practical medical techniques to help with her duties as the head of Sanctuary, duties which primarily focus on hunting and containing extraordinary and paranormal creatures. Through her unnatural longevity she has faced a great deal of loss and seen much of the evilness in humanity, but she still continues forward with grace and passion for her mission.
8. Sandy Cheeks, Spongebob Squarpants Sandra "Sandy" Cheeks is a great inspiration for the little girls and stoners watching Spongebob Squarepants. The upbeat and energetic squirrel originally came to Bikini Bottom to study seas creatures and their lifestyles. She is a gifted inventor that has made everything from a teleporter to cloning device. She is also one of the saner and more level headed characters on the show. Interestingly she seems to be one of the few television scientist characters actually doing experiments and creating inventions on a regular basis. Outside of science she loves extreme sports, karate and other vigorous activity that challenge stereotypes for little girls.
9. Kitty Ping Young, Dragonsdawn The only reason dragons exist on Pern is because of the work of Kitty Ping Young. She was the most eminent bio-geneticist of the Federated Sentient Planets, the only human who had ever been trained at the Great Beltrae Halls of the Eridanis. She used these Erdani techniques to alter plants and animals to thrive on Pern and ultimately engineered the dragon as a renewable air-force. She was also over a hundred, quite frail and only able to move about using prostheses. Old women characters, especially useful contributors, are pretty rare in almost all pop culture. She is an inspirational foil to all the hot lady scientist tropes.
10. Beverly Crusher, Star Trek: The Next Generation Being the chief medical officer on the Starship Enterprise is way more exciting than you might think. Dr. Crusher was often called upon to cure new and exciting plagues, figure out how to overcome telepathic woes, examine and understand newly discovered life forms and do not so routine things like find weaknesses in the Borg. It seems she spent as much time doing research in the med-bay as healing. While she didn't always occupy the flashiest place on the ship she was always a vital and solid presence that could step up and command from the bridge when needed. She was also a mother that had a healthy relationship with her child. Dr. Crusher is inspirational alone because she could balance a successful science career and family.
For more female scientists in sci-fi:
Women in Science: The Femael Scientist in Fiction database