A scientist who dressed for a speech in a glamorous gown at the behest of a group of young girls has gone viral for inspiring other young “sparkling geeks.”
Rita J. King was recently cleaning out her closet when she came across the sparkly dress she wore while giving a 2011 speech at a TedXYouth@NASA event in Hampton, Virginia.
“Cleaning out my closet, I came across this gown and remembered the little girls who sent me a letter and asked me to wear something sparkly for a talk I gave at NASA so they could believe that scientists could also be sparkly,” she wrote on Twitter alongside a photo of the dress.
King, who at the time was a futurist at the National Institute of Aerospace, NASA’s think tank in Langley, Virginia, tells PEOPLE the request came from a woman involved with organizing the event who knew several young girls who were going to be in attendance and wanted to see a “sparkling geek.”
“I figured, ‘You know what? I’m gonna do it,’” she says. “I think it’s important to know your audience and the point of that talk was to inspire kids to think about reinventing systems that they’re going to grow up into.”
King bought the dress specifically for the occasion, and hasn’t worn it since, though she says stumbling upon it again made her emotional because its significance has only grown over the last eight years.
“I think this is a particularly painful time for woman,” she tells PEOPLE. “We are facing the pain of society changing and that’s difficult. … The way I look at it is sequins are kind of like the sun on the sea. It’s beautiful, but the power lies in the sea under the surface. And hopefully the message is part of what’s making people resonate, and the message is that kids are growing up into systems that need them to reinvent them.”
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King, a futurist and executive vice president for business development and co-director of Science House, says she’ll never get rid of the gown, and has even thought about possibly giving another talk while wearing it.
Until then, her message of embracing sparkle in science has reached many on social media.
“My daughter is obsessed with all things sparkly, and she also likes to use tools and tinker. I love that she can see women like you!” user @tankwasp wrote.
Added user @katiekawaii, “This is so important. The idea that masculine is serious and feminine is frivolous limits the options girls see for themselves and their future lives. This shows them that they don’t have to pick between their interests and their identities. Science is for everyone. Thank you!”