Disney princesses are some of the most iconic figures in popular culture, and people love to reimagine them living in different worlds. There are zombie Disney princesses, the princesses as Game of Thrones characters, princesses reimagined as warriors, as hipsters…and even as cats.
But to science communicator and artist JoAnna Wendel, something was missing: science! In all their respective stories, these princesses prove themselves to be curious, resilient, adventurous, and determined: all good qualities in a scientist. So she drew them differently.
We picked up her drawings and fleshed out a bit of backstory behind each science-driven princess. In this alternate universe, Disney princesses do more than live luxurious royal lives. They use their talents to learn more about the natural world.
Queen Elsa, Glaciologist
A deep interest in the cryosphere comes naturally to a lady who can control ice with her will. After she noticed that the ice castle she pulled and shaped from a glacier’s depths contained different ice phases and forms, she set out to parameterize the variables that govern the formation of the ice that she’s able to conjure. Her latest claim to scientific fame? She can recreate all 18 known solid crystalline phases of water in less than 5 minutes.
Another pet project involves collecting cores and samples of sea ice, particularly in the harsh conditions of Arctic winter. But she dusts those hardships off like fresh snow powder.
“As you know, the cold never bothered me anyway,” she explained. “But the dress was getting a bit cumbersome, so I opt for sturdy field pants and a light jacket when we’re out on the ice.” The sample she’s collecting above will go into a climate-controlled lab for technician-snowmen that she animated to analyze and catalog.
Princess Jasmine, Atmospheric Chemist
Frequent spins on a magic carpet through that endless diamond sky gave Jasmine a lot of time to ponder some big questions. For example, what sustains the hole in the ozone layer? What exactly is the provenance of particles of dust and pollution found at different altitudes? What’s it like to be swept up in an atmospheric river?
So when she’s not busy helping to rule her kingdom, Jasmine rides the skies, collecting data. “Aladdin was right—it really is a whole new world up here. And that means there are so many data we still need to collect,” she said. Her current research involves using a magic carpet as her remote sensor to probe extremely high altitude targets in the upper stratosphere and mesosphere.
Fa Mulan, Paleontologist
While training for the emperor’s army in northeastern China, Mulan stumbled on what she thought was an errant stone. Digging deeper, she uncovered a single, intact femur, about 1 meter long.
“I knew. I just knew right then that I had stumbled on a big find,” she later recalled. She recruited her army buddies to grid off the site and start carefully digging. “They found bones upon bones. And then an amazingly well preserved skull. I thought to myself, ‘Mister, how could I…make a dinosaur…out of YOU?’”
The site Mulan found may hold another key discovery: The strata immediately surrounding these bones were flecked with curious spindly impressions. “Actually, it was my lucky cricket who pointed it out,” Mulan explained. “Now, anyone who’s seen their companion dragon roll around in mud knows what impressions of reptile skin look like. These spindles were not that. Perhaps stage 1 feathers?”
If so, she noted, that would be quite the find. “There are a couple ideas for some journal scrolls I’m kicking around, so check back with me in a few years after they’re published.”
Princess Merida, Conservation Ecologist/Park Ranger
These days you won’t find Merida galloping through forests, shooting arrows hither and yon. “When your mom and baby brothers magically transform into bears and then back into humans because of something you did, it kind of sticks with you,” she said. “You begin to pay closer attention to nature, to habitats. Bears and other species need us to keep our footprints at a minimum. After all, they were here long before us.”
The tromping hooves and scattered arrows? They damage critical microenvironments that form the foundation of forest life, she explained. “I try to stay on trail as much as possible. And I still do target practice, but I pack out what I take in.”
Merida still has no patience for marriage. “Seriously,” she retorted, “would that be important to mention if I were a man who found a new calling? I think not.” Rather, she spends her days roaming the forests of Scotland that she decreed as protected land. From dawn to dusk, she catalogs the park’s species diversity and monitors ecosystem health. “My first quest was to change my fate. Now I want to change the fate of vulnerable life on Earth.”
Princess Ariel, Oceanographer
Anyone who’s kept up with Ariel’s life knows that after she helped defeat the witch-kraken Ursula, she got married, had a kid, and temporarily got her tail back with the help of magic from her father so that she could save her kid from Ursula’s witch-kraken sister. We know: a lot to process, right?
What you may not know is that a year after those adventures subsided, she began to get restless. Motherhood and princessing couldn’t be the be-all and end-all, she figured, not with her analytical mind and sense of adventure. So she began to read up on the ocean world she once called home and, in doing so, found her calling.
“I want to be where the deep waters are, I want to see, want to see them upwelling,” she noted at the time. Inspired, she approached her father with a deal: He gives her freedom to flash in and out of her tail, and she swims far and wide, hunting for harbingers of changing ocean conditions. She shares her findings with her father and her husband so that they can enact policies to lessen impacts on the ocean and protect merpeople and humans from ocean changes to come.
Her father agreed, and she’s been collecting in situ data of the ocean ever since. “As a human-animal hybrid who loves to sing, I’m perfectly positioned to do this vital work,” she noted. Not only does she swim to areas that submersibles find difficult to reach, but she can also talk to fishes, crabs, and other species. “And when I sing, I put these species at ease so that they are more likely to tell me their firsthand experiences of ocean life in a warming world.”
—Mohi Kumar (@scimohi), Interim Senior News Editor