Scientists call for emoji that represent the full spectrum of nerdom

Expand your vocabulary.
Expand your vocabulary.
Image: Anne Smylie/Proposed Science Emoji
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Everyone wants emoji to call their own. Women have complained about glyph sexism—evidenced by the dearth of professional lady emoji, for example—and many were miffed by the whiteness 🙏 of this universal tongue 👪, leading to the creation of skin tone modifiers👨🏾.

On Nov. 6, a science emoji team petitioned the Unicode Consortium to approve a new set of scientific emojis. It’s important, they say, to keep their work relevant to the public and for self-expression. ”Where’s my frowny-face scientist emoji to show that my experiment went wrong?” Jessica Morrison, the science team leader, asked Nature.

The team was at the world’s first Emojicon, held in San Francisco, where attendees advocated for symbols, participated in a development hackathon, and learned about Unicode’s official petition process.

There, the science emoji group formally submitted its new digital symbols for planets—right now, Unicode includes only Earth and Pluto. They are also preparing a petition for a slew of new glyphs, including lab equipment, to be submitted soon. The collection contains a beaker, a Bunsen burner, a fire extinguisher, a Petri dish, goggles, a DNA double helix, a microbe, and more.

These would join existing official science emoji, such as 🔬 (microscope), 🔭 (telescope), and 🔍 (magnifying glass). Unofficial symbols—like an array of Albert Einstein emoji—already abound, but they’re not part of the Unicode collection, updated annually and standardized across platforms.

The Unicode emoji petition process is open to anyone. Applicants must show their new emoji are compatible with those in existence, predict expected usage level, provide the explicit and metaphorical meanings of each glyph, and articulate how the proposed emoji would contribute to the completeness of the digital tongue.

Unicode warns, “Proposals should not attempt to make distinctions that are too narrow. For example, there are emoji for hearts typically drawn as purple, blue, green, yellow, red, and (as a candidate) orange; there is no need for finer gradations of color.” Nor can a proposed glyph be too open-ended or faddish, according to Unicode. 💕 💚 💔

Craig Cummings, vice-chair of Unicode’s technical committee advised the science team, and says their new planet emoji may be fast-tracked for inclusion in the 2017 summer update. The second collection, if approved, would be available sometime in 2018.

It would be an important symbolic victory. Anna Smylie, a designer who helped to create the new science collection, believes seeing nerd emoji in everyday communications will keep people thinking about the work that 👩🏽‍🔬 scientists do.