Rachel Ignotofsky



I am so happy to present to you today my latest in my series of Interviews with People I Admire, the amazing Rachel Ignotofsky, who has just published her first book through Ten Speed Press entitled Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World. I love this book not only because it focuses on often-hidden-from-history female scientists, but also because it’s beautifully researched, written and illustrated. This book is for all ages, but as Rachel points out in the interview, it’s especially awesome for young girls and teens who are interested in science. A book of brilliant role models for girls? Sign me up!

Rachel is an accomplished illustrator, who has worked for many impressive clients. Her career began right out of college as a designer at Hallmark. Now freelancing full time, Rachel’s work is inspired by history and science. She believes that illustration is a powerful tool that can make learning exciting. She has a passion for (and is incredibly good at) taking dense information and making accessible for readers young and old alike! Want to learn more about Rachel and her book? Ready, set, go…

Patricia Bath - p97

Lisa: Tell us about you! What’s your background? Where are you from? How did you become an illustrator and author?

Rachel: I was born and raised in New Jersey and I have been drawing ever since I can remember. In high school I decided to seriously become an illustrator and started prepping my portfolio for art school. I went to Tyler School of Art and graduated with a BFA in Graphic Design. Right out of school I was hired by Hallmark and moved to Kansas City, where I am based now. I left Hallmark to pursue my real passion, which was scientific illustration. I have always had a passion for history and science and now I dedicate myself to creating educational artwork that is both fun and jammed packed with information.

Although drawing came really naturally to me, reading was a different story. I was an incredibly slow reader in elementary school. It really wasn’t until I started reading densely illustrated books like Amelia’s Notebook, educational comic books and cartoons like Magic School Bus, that I gained my own love of learning. I wanted to make the same kind of books that I had so much fun reading as a kid and think are important as an adult. I always had in the back of my mind that my illustrations were part of a larger book project and when the opportunity came knocking I was ready.


{This is Rachel!}

Lisa: How did this book come to be?

Rachel: I was thinking a lot about why science and engineering is still considered such a “boys club.”  I have a lot of friends in education and we were talking about the massive gender gap in STEM fields even though girls test just as well as boys do in math and science.  I truly believe that one of the best ways to fight gender bias like this is by introducing young adults to strong female role models.

I started to dig and I was overwhelmed by the amount of female scientist who have contributed just as much (if not more) as Einstein or Tesla. but have landed in obscurity. So I decided to use my illustrations to help celebrate women and their accomplishments. Illustration is a powerful tool when it comes to telling stories.  I wanted this book to not only be educational but also have tons of illustrations, so the reader really has fun while they are learning. My hope for my book is to help make these women household names and encourage girls to follow always their passions.

Edith Clarke - p41

I love learning about the mechanics of how your world works. Ever since my high school human anatomy class I was seriously hooked on science. Whether or not you are going to pursue a STEM career, knowing how our world works empowers people to make educated decisions. Whether it is how the lights turn on, or why it rains outside, or why use tooth paste, it is all important. But I think people get scared when approaching dense subjects. A lot of kids and adults hear “astrophysics” or “x-ray crystallography” and think “Woah! That is too smart for me.” Through art work I want to take those subjects and make them accessible and fun! If you can make learning easy, all of the sudden people get the courage to learn even and all of the sudden they realize that they are capable of understanding even the densest subjects.

Rosalind Franklin - p79-2

Lisa: What was the most exciting, enjoyable part of the process of making the book? Conversely, what was the most difficult or frustrating?

Rachel: I loved learning these women’s stories. You read about everything the accomplished, the lives they saved and how much they had to overcome to contribute and you just feel so indebted to them. And of course the drawings, I always have a lot of fun with that.

I think the most frustrating things was figuring out who I was as a writer, what habits and what organizational systems work for me. It was the first time I ever authored anything. Whether or not I am “feeling creative” I can do a really cool illustration, because I have been doing it for so long. I just have the years of practice under my belt that help make good decisions while I work. That is not the case with writing. A good day means good writing and a bad day means bad writing. I learned a lot of little things, like I write best in the morning, or after a big meal. Silly stuff like that makes the world of difference when you are trying to churn out 500-1000 words a day. I bet in ten years it’ll come as naturally as drawing does, but until then I am going to wake up and eat a lot of pancakes and coffee to get creativity going.

Marie Curie - p29

Lisa: Which of the women in the book surprised you the most?

Rachel: I think one of the most shocking stories was Lisa Meitner. Just how much she had to overcome and that she still made one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science, Fission. She would be forced flee Germany when the Nazi came into power because she was Jewish. At the time Lise was trying to discover a new heavy element with her lab partner Otto Hahn. They were smashing neutrons against uranium and the result they were getting were out of the ordinary. Although she found asylum in Sweden she did not want to leave her work in Germany behind.

She wrote secret letters to Otto to continue their work. When Otto did not understand the results of their experiment he wrote to Lise. She realized they were in fact stretching the nucleus apart and releasing nuclear energy! Her discovery of fission changed physics, energy and history forever. It is amazing, after all she went through it was her sheer love of science that kept her working, and allowed her to contribute greatly to the world, even if it was in secret. She could not return to Germany and was not included in the Nobel Prize for her discovery.

Sylvia Earle - p93

Lisa: Which one woman in the book would you most like to have dinner with and why?

Rachel: Ooh, that is a good one. I think Sylvia Earle is one of my top picks. She is the marine biologist who broke the depth record for an untethered dive and has explored so much of our deep ocean. I would love to hear more about her life time of work, from living on tektite II under water for weeks, to when she was called the “sturgeon general” at NOAA, to her main project now called Mission Blue. Mission Blue is a conservation project much like the protected parks, but instead it is protected parts of the ocean. We get most of our oxygen from the ocean, and a healthy ocean is essential to our survival. She is working to try and stop the over fishing and pollution that is damaging the ocean’s ecosystems. Sylvia Earle’s research and photography has made even the deepest parts of the ocean more accessible, it is just fascinating!

Hypatia - p9

Lisa: I know the book is for everyone, but who do you most hope reads this book?

Rachel: I think middle school girls and boys. Middle school is that important age where you are start figuring out who you want to become. I think it is essential for both boys and girls to have strong female role models growing up. Children need to know that they can pursue their passions and make a real impact on this world regardless of gender.

Lisa: What do you hope people take away from the book?

Rachel: That women in the sciences is not something new. That throughout history women have been working hard and greatly contributing to progress. I am hoping that my book is part of a larger movement to make these historic women’s stories more available and help to normalize women in stem fields and positions of power. when a little girl closes her eyes, and imagines what a scientist looks like, she can see herself.

Lisa: Thank you, Rachel!! You are so inspiring!! And I love this book. Friends, you can get Women in Science here or at all major book sellers!