Michelle Dickinson on getting kids into science

18 August 2016 / Published in Tech & Innovation

Dr Michelle Dickinson, aka Nanogirl, is a nanotechnologist and senior engineering lecturer at the University of Auckland.

She’s passionate about everyone having access to learning about science and how things work; she’s made this her focus with a lot of her projects.

She created alter ego Nanogirl to bring science to kids everywhere. She wanted to make it fun and relevant – showing kids that science isn’t just in a classroom at school.

She partnered with ASB Bright Sparks, an annual technology competition, to further this mission. It lets her support budding technologists and scientists at the start of their journeys.

We sat down with Michelle to ask her a few questions about her career and involvement with ASB Bright Sparks.

Can you tell us a bit about what you do for a living?

I have a few roles that revolve around my passions. As a lecturer in the faculty of engineering at the University of Auckland I run a research laboratory specialising in nanotechnology or building and breaking very small things. I also teach students about core engineering principles as they study towards their engineering degrees.

I’m also co-founder of a national education charity called OMGTech! which helps to teach science and technology to New Zealand students and teachers.

How did you get interested in technology and science?

I’ve always been curious and loved taking things apart to see how they worked when I was young. My curiosity is just as strong and I’m still taking things apart to see how they work. When I was younger I didn’t know that what I loved was called technology or science, to me it was just figuring out how things worked around me.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

As an educator, I love when I see the light bulb moment in somebody as they learn something new or connect the dots on a problem that they are trying to solve. It’s a real privilege to be able to help others to gain further understanding into a field that they are interested in. I also love being in the lab and making new discoveries, especially when they are things that I wasn’t expecting.

Why did you get involved with Bright Sparks?

I’ve been involved with Bright Sparks for four years now. I love how it encourages inventiveness and problem solving, both of which I think are really important and powerful skills to develop.

What tips do you have for this year’s entrants?

Be bold and think about how big an impact you can make with your idea. There are lots of people who are willing to help so if you don’t know an answer, ask somebody in the field who might know. It’s much easier to get advice and collaborate with experts than try to figure it out on your own.

What can we do to encourage and increase diversity in STEM industries?

Firstly I think we need more accessible positive role models who are talking about what they do for a job. The stereotype of an engineer tends to be a man in a hard hat, but engineering is so diverse and has many pathways which involve helping to solve problems for the world, many of which require no outdoor safety clothing at all! Secondly I’d love to see STEM heroes celebrated as much as our sports heroes so that young people can see the amazing opportunities that can be created in a STEM career.

What tips do you have for girls wanting to study STEM subjects at school or at university?

Do it! That’s my only tip. It’s amazing, it’s empowering and it has the potential to change the world.


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