Can these dolls—who star in their own Netfix show—make STEM cool?

August 8, 2015, 2:30 PM UTC
TV-Smart Girls
This photo provided by Netflix shows actresses Genneya Walton, from left, Victoria Vida, Ysa Penarejo, and Mika Abdalla, in a scene from "Project Mc2." The series about four clever schoolgirls recruited to join a spy organization will be released Aug. 7, 2015, on Netflix. (Netflix via AP)
Photograph by AP

First there was Barbie, with her perma-pointed feet and untenable proportions. Then came her hyper-sexualized cousins, Bratz. Next, the third wave: playthings designed to look more like actual girls.

Now kids have a new option: A line of math- and science-loving dolls, each of which comes with its own experiment kit.

The toys, called Project Mc², are—believe it or not—the creation of MGA Entertainment, the same company that makes Bratz.

The dolls, with names like Adrienne Attoms and Bryden Bandwedth, were designed to have “different body types and faces to show that not everyone is blonde and tall,” says Isaac Larian, CEO of MGA. Each comes with a do-it-at-home science experiment. Bandwedth’s kit shows kids how to make a glow stick necklace from household ingredients—with apologies to adults who have to clean up afterward—while Attoms’ kit lets girls create an erupting volcano with items found in the kitchen. The dolls, priced around $15 each, will be available from major retailers like Walmart and Target, as well as Amazon.

The company has clearly made note of the success of products like the Frozen dolls, which outsold Barbie last Christmas—thanks in part to marketing synergy with the juggernaut movie of the same name. The Project Mc² dolls are launching alongside an eponymous three-episode TV series, available for streaming on Netflix. The series features four brilliant, science-skilled girls who are recruited to join a top-secret spy organization. The series features education advocate and actress Danica McKellar, best known for playing Winnie Cooper on the popular television show The Wonder Years. The brand will also feature YouTube shorts and original content on AwesomenessTV and DreamworksTV. The Project Mc² app will be available in September and the company will also be releasing short videos on YouTube.

Larian says his inspiration came from two primary areas. A civil engineer by education, he graduated from California Polytechnic State University in 1978 and says there were only two women in his class of 50 people. When he recently returned to the university, he was surprised to find that even now, women make up 15% or so of the class.

His other motivation was his daughter, Jasmin Larian, now 26, who is an entrepreneur and founder of fashion brand Cult Gaia. “I’m really proud of her. If Jasmin can do it, why not every other girl out there?” he says. Larian also says he’d like to see the next mega-startup like Facebook or Apple be founded by a woman.

The middle school and high school gender gaps in STEM subjects are narrowing and, in some cases, girls even outnumber boys in math and science classes. Larian thinks that by targeting girls in elementary school and early middle school, Project Mc² will impart the pro-STEM message to girls, as well as boys and families, that much sooner. The dolls are targeted to girls ages 6 through 10, while the series demo is targeted to ages 6 through 13.

“Hopefully, this is just the beginning. We’d like to expand the project even further. Because if you’re [studying STEM] and your girlfriend is doing it, and your sister is doing it, how long before everyone is doing it, and then STEM becomes cool?” Larian says.

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