LEGO Creator

Former Science World editor Maia Weinstock brings female scientists, engineers, and explorers to the world of LEGO®

BIANCA ALEXIS PHOTOGRAPHY FOR SCHOLASTIC

SUCCESSFUL LAUNCH: Maia Weinstock signed copies of the set for fans in New York City last October.

A LEGO kit celebrating four pioneering female space scientists has become one of the company’s hottest toys. The “Women of NASA” set is the brainchild of science writer and editor Maia Weinstock, a former editor at Science World.

Weinstock currently works as the deputy editor of news at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It’s her job to help people understand the university’s cutting-edge research. But her efforts to bring science to a wider audience don’t stop there. For the past several years, she’s also been designing her own LEGO mini-figures of real-life scientists, like those featured in the new kit, and sharing images of them online.

Then in 2016, Weinstock submitted her idea for the “Women of NASA” set to the LEGO Ideas website. Fans and the company selected her proposal to be developed for sale. When the set launched last November, it rocketed to the top of Amazon’s bestselling toy list in a matter of hours. Weinstock spoke with Science World about how the inspiring set became a reality.

NASA (RIDE, JEMISON); LEGO/NASA (LEGO SHUTTLE)

What led you to begin tinkering with LEGO mini-figures?

In 2009, I was working on an animated movie about the British mathematician Ada Lovelace. While I was searching for material about her for the animators, I discovered that someone had made a mini-figure of Lovelace. I thought it would be great to do the same thing for living scientists.

I made my first mini-figure of Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist and good friend of mine. At first I didn’t know how to find parts, but I mixed and matched pieces from other mini-figures. It came out really well, so I continued making more, posting photos of them online, and giving them to the people they were modeled after.

LEGO/NASA (LEGO HAMILTON); DRAPER LABORATORY/ RESTORED BY ADAM CUERDEN/WIKIPEDIA (HAMILTON)

How did you come up with the idea for the “Women of NASA” set?

I had proposed a couple of previous projects on the LEGO Ideas website that didn’t get to the 10,000-vote requirement to become a set. Then I got the idea to combine women and NASA. I chose software engineer Margaret Hamilton, astronauts Mae Jemison and Sally Ride, and astronomer Nancy Grace Roman. I had a feeling it would be pretty popular.

But I knew that I’d need more than just the mini-figures. Since it was a LEGO set, there would have to be a building element as well. So I created vignettes, or scenes—including a telescope and space shuttle—that people could put together to show the mini-figures at work.

LEGO/NASA (LEGO ROMAN); NASA/SCIENCE SOURCE (ROMAN)

Why did you select these particular women?

I had several criteria for the women I chose. First, I wanted to include people from different areas of NASA. Margaret Hamilton supported spaceflight as a software engineer. That’s a very different job than that of an astronaut like Mae Jemison. I also wanted someone who had nothing to do with the human-spaceflight program. Nancy Grace Roman was a longtime astronomer who oversaw the plan to create the Hubble Space Telescope.

I chose people of different ages and backgrounds. And I chose a mix of some who were famous, like astronaut Sally Ride, and others who weren’t as well known.

What do you hope people will take away from the set?

I hope that it will inspire boys and girls of all ages. It’s especially exciting to showcase STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) role models for girls. It’s important for kids to see examples of scientists who look like them. What I’d ultimately love would be if kids who play with this set today go on to become the first Mars explorers, the engineers who helped them get to the Red Planet, or computer scientists who helped code the mission!

MAKE IT! Enter our DIY Challenge contest for a chance to win a “Women of NASA” LEGO set signed by Maia Weinstock.