The We Are Young Women Researchers program, already used by 30,000 primary school children, is spreading across Spain

09 February 2024

Promoted by the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, this is the largest educational programme in Spain to encourage, especially among girls, interest in supercomputing and scientific and technological vocations

After five years of the program, the aim is to implement it in the regions where the entities that form part of the Spanish Supercomputing Network are present

'Your wish is my command' is one of the missions of the We Are Young Women Researchers program in which 3rd and 4th year primary school children learn how supercomputers work and tackle such stimulating challenges as programming their own videogame. This is just one of the activities that make up this project launched in 2018 by the Barcelona Supercomputing Center - Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS) to promote scientific and technological vocations, especially among girls, in the digital era.

During the first five years of We Are Young Women Researchers, 30,000 schoolchildren aged 9 and 10 have participated in this educational program, whose main activity is visits to the BSC's MareNostrum supercomputer. Now, the program has been extended throughout Spain by the different institutions that form part of the Spanish Supercomputing Network (RES) and EuroCC-Spain, the Spanish node of the network of European Competence Centres in supercomputing, big data and artificial intelligence.

In the new digital era in which we are immersed, the massive use of data and artificial intelligence will be key factors in the professions of the future in the scientific-technological field, in which there is currently a marked gender gap. Different studies claim that many girls lose interest in scientific careers from the age of 12, as they consider them to be more appropriate for the male gender and do not believe that it is a way out for them, which highlights the need to collaborate in the creation of female role models in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) areas.

"In all the activities of We Are Young Women Researchers, the female reference is always very present. All the projects we explain are led by female researchers and the videos shown are starring female scientists. What we try to do is that the students who visit us leave here knowing that this is also a field for girls and that there are many women working successfully in scientific research," says Josep M. Martorell, associate director of the BSC.

SCAYLE and BIFI join the project

The success of the project, which in 2022 was awarded the National Research Award for Scientific Communication by the Government of Catalonia and the Catalan Foundation for Research and Innovation (FCRI), has opened the door to the incorporation of other entities that are part of the RES and EuroCC-Spain, such as SCAYLE, the Supercomputing Centre of Castilla y León and the Institute of Biocomputing and Physics of Complex Systems (BIFI) of the University of Zaragoza.

In total, during the past 2023, 8,400 students from 420 educational centres participated in We Are Young Women Researchers to learn, through various missions, what it means to program and give instructions to a computer, how an electrical circuit built with lemons and coins works, to understand how to analyse the data obtained from a simulation of the seabed and to test the advantages of parallel calculation, which is the method used by supercomputers to obtain results more quickly.

For the visits organised by the RES and EuroCC-Spain entities, a digital application has been developed that allows visitors to visit the MareNostrum supercomputer virtually, and each centre has adapted the original contents created by the BSC in its face-to-face activities. SCAYLE launched the program in 2023 and has already been visited by more than 700 primary school pupils, a figure they hope to exceed this year.

"We implemented the program in the 2022-2023 academic year with the support of the Provincial Directorate of the Regional Ministry of Education and that of Mobility and Digital Transformation of the Regional Government of Castilla y León and from the beginning it was a resounding success that exceeded our expectations. We received an avalanche of requests and we had to open new dates so as not to leave out any school. The response we have received from the schools, both from teachers and students, has been very positive, so we are very satisfied," said Ruth Alonso Martínez, head of the programme at SCAYLE.

The digital application allows We Are Young Women Researchers to be open to the incorporation of any school in Spain interested in participating remotely from their own facilities. BIFI has already carried out a pilot test during the last year and from the RES and EuroCC-Spain it is expected that during this year 2024 new centres will adopt the initiative to expand knowledge about how supercomputing helps to solve society's problems and reduce the gender gap in the scientific and technological field.