Rachel Senturia has always loved crazy socks. By wearing socks ranging in design from cupcakes to cats with sunglasses, Senturia is able to express herself in an alternative fashion.
However, Senturia, an alumna, said she could never find any that reflected her interests in science. In 2012, she decided to make them herself and founded STEMsocks, a clothing company that aims to reintroduce science as a popular culture item by including designs related to science, technology, engineering or math on its apparel.
In 2006, Senturia enrolled at UCLA as a graduate student in the department of biological chemistry, where she worked for five-and-a-half years to receive her doctorate. Senturia decided to become an entrepreneur, aiming to inform customers about modern science and scientists, like herself.
“I really wanted to alter the pervasive media depiction of scientists as frumpy and awkward,” Senturia said.
Senturia was inspired to create STEMsocks when she did a search online during graduate school and noticed that most search results included scientists portrayed as a mad scientist or very elderly.
Senturia cited the 1996 movie “Independence Day” as a film that depicts scientists with unkempt clothes, ragged hair and strange ways of talking.
Senturia said an accurate depiction of scientists is important for influencing people to join the field and keeping a diverse group of people in science.
“My friends and I didn’t really match that stereotype so I wanted to develop a product that reflected my interests and would increase scientific literacy and acceptability,” Senturia said.
Currently, STEMsocks has seven science-inspired sock designs like DNA strands, atoms, electrocardiogram spikes and biohazard symbols.
“I wanted images that people could immediately recognize and say ‘I’ve seen that before and I know what that is,’” Senturia said.
By incorporating scientific themes, Senturia said she hopes to capture science-oriented consumers’ attention and change how modern-day scientists are often placed outside of the mainstream culture.
One of Senturia’s friends, Alyssa Zackler, who is an OB-GYN resident at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, explained why there are many stereotypes pertaining to science.
“When people find something difficult to understand, it’s hard to relate to,” Zackler said. “When the public doesn’t understand science, it becomes this scary, foreign thing that needs to be made more approachable.”
Zackler said when she attended high school, the subjects of math and science were considered uncool and nerdy, which discouraged many from pursuing these subjects.
However, Kristen Choy, a UCLA physiological sciences graduate student recognizes the stereotypes, but does not accept them.
“I’ve never felt really ‘un-cool’ for being a scientist,” said Choy. “(But) I probably have a skewed view because I’ve always been in the sciences and think it’s great.”
Choy, who has also created STEM-themed apparel believes scientists are allowing science to become a more approachable subject through other new mediums, like STEM-themed apparel and TED talks.
Choy said STEM-themed apparel companies help in this shift.
“You’re starting to see this side other than the frazzled scientist in a lab coat,” Choy said. “You’re starting to see these well-spoken, well-read people who are very logical and really want to contribute (and) are looking to innovate and help the world in some way.”
Senturia said her main goal is to promote a more modern version of scientists and education in science to bring science into the mainstream.
“I see (STEMsocks) as a small contribution towards the conversation about the role of STEM in our lives, politically, economically and culturally,” Senturia said.
Senturia said she hopes to continue to positively impact her communities and the people in them.
“I want customers to feel like their interests in science, which has historically been portrayed as not cool, is something really special that should be celebrated,” Senturia said. “There’s a bigger mission of the company, which is about making science cool and accessible.”