Back in 1962 when "A Wrinkle in Time" was first published, smart, young females who liked science were scarce. But author Madeline L'Engle was nothing if not a visionary, and so was her book's main character, Meg Murry.
The glasses-wearing, science-loving girl who ends up saving her father has captivated girls and boys alike for decades. She started ruling the silver screen, too, in March 2018 when the Disney film hit theaters. Even better than the diverse star-power behind the film (the cast includes Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling, among others), is the message Meg continues to send to girls and women today that science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers are decidedly not the boys clubs they once were. In fact women made up 24 percent of the Americans employed in STEM occupations in 2015.
HowStuffWorks talked to three modern-day "Megs" to find out how they were inspired by the character's bravery, ambition and intelligence to pursue real-life scientific success.
Dr. Amy Serin is a successful neuropsychologist. Reading "A Wrinkle in Time" as a girl had a huge effect on her future accomplishments. "It was 1984 and almost unheard of to have a female heroine who I could identify with in a book," says the Serin Center founder and chief science officer and co-founder of the Touchpoint Solution, in an email interview. "I loved the book so much I actually wrote to Madeline L'Engle and to my surprise she wrote back! We became pen pals for a short time when I was in the third or fourth grade. She encouraged me to follow my dreams and her responses really helped encourage me."
Meg was far more than a fictional character to Dr. Serin. "Reading the book helped me to identify that it was OK that I wasn't like other girls and that I should follow my passion and curiosity."
Today, Dr. Serin devotes her professional life to helping people who struggle with debilitating neurological disorders like anxiety, PTSD and depression. Through her work with the TouchPoint Solution, she has produced a lifestyle wearable device designed to significantly alleviate stress. "Having a way to manage stress in real-time represents a profound shift in the way we all can live more productive lives."
Much of the story is about Meg's quest to find her father throughout space and time, but Dr. Amy Baxter zeroed in immediately on Meg's mother, Mrs. Murry, who was a microbiologist. "Of course I was inspired by Mrs. Murry (why wasn't she Dr.?) out in the garage with her lab equipment," she emails. "Mrs. Murry was the ultimate balanced scientist mom – the nurturing skills to make hot cocoa when the kids needed it, the presence and power to let the kids take care of what they should be able to, the will to plug forward even when her husband was gone, the courage to ignore haters, and the trust in her kids to accept the Mrs. [three characters in the book] when introduced. Sometimes she didn't leave the lab, and that was OK. She was a role model for science-balance."
Like many, Dr. Baxter also felt a powerful connection to Meg. "It was the first time I was introduced to a female protagonist who felt ostracized for being smart, and was loved anyway – and whose love for others saved the day. Powerful stuff when you're a chubby loner reading books in class all day long," she recalls.
The book led to Dr. Baxter's eventual success as a 20-year emergency room physician-turned-inventor. As a kid, "I loved the idea of solving problems in your garage. I made a chemistry lab in my basement at home, but discovered the stuff they give you in kids' home chemistry kits can only turn things pink and blue, not cure cancer," she says. Her patience paid off, however. "Even though I practiced medicine, my career ended up pivoting on something I made in my basement," she explains.
That something is a device she invented to block needle pain, which gained traction as a way to avoid using opioids post-surgery. Floored by the potential to prevent opioid addiction and abuse, a scourge that is currently devastating America, she promptly quit practicing medicine. She has since devoted herself to fine-tuning a larger, wearable version of the device known as "VibraCool," often used to help with pain management for knee and elbow issues.
The concept of time travel itself played a huge part in the career path of Dr. Abbe Herzig, currently a professor in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice at the University of Albany. "I have always been fascinated by the concept of time. What is time? Is time travel possible? There are intriguing paradoxes and puzzles associated with time travel and the nature of the passage of time," she writes in an email. "'A Wrinkle in Time' was one of the first books I read as a child that dealt with these ideas, and turned me into a lifelong time-geek."
The book's gentle push has since led her to explore many areas of science, time and even time travel. "My academic focus has always been mathematics, and my mathematical skills coupled with my time obsession have led me to take physics courses and read a lot about science (physics in particular, but not exclusively)," she says. She enjoys researching and collecting different types of clocks, and also loves investigating the various calendars created throughout history. "The mathematics behind some of these measurement concepts is a real addiction of mine."
We think Meg would approve.
Originally Published: Feb 16, 2018