Science superhero is out to change the world




Nanogirl Michelle Dickinson is going all out to train the next generation of inventors. Times photo Christel Moore
The theme for the High Tea hosted by the Women in Rotary was hats and handbags. Times photo Farida Master
Rotarians Katrina Cole (left) and Sue Fariburn at the High Tea organised by the Rotary Club of Somerville. Times photo Farida Master

When a door closes on you, don’t take no for an answer, said Dr Michelle Dickinson, popularly known as Nanogirl.

Passionate about introducing children to science and technology live on stage as well as on radio and television,  the researcher and scientist shared her captivating story at a high tea fundraiser organised by Women in Rotary (hosted by Rotary Club of Somerville) at the Howick Pakuranga Netball Centre, Lloyd Elsmore Park, at the weekend.

“If you want to get something, don’t stop at the first closed door. Sneak around the back, that’s what I did,” she said about the time she didn’t get into a top university in the US. She refused to take no for an answer.

Dickinson believes that it’s often adversity that teaches people about their greatest strengths.

Shrugging off a long list of awards that include being awarded Member of NZ Order of Merit, winner of Women of Influence for Science and Innovation 2016, the Sir Peter Blake Leadership Award 2016 and the Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize, the unconventional scientist spoke of  the school of  hard knocks.

“My parents were young when they met at a bar, and then they had me. We were poor and I didn’t have any books to read. My mother would often turn on the music and didn’t understand why I needed to study and get good grades as well as work and support my younger brother,” she said.

Past District Governor Jennie Herring with District Governor Elect Ingrid Waugh. Photo Christel Moore

Her interest in science was sparked as she watched her dad soldering circuits on the dining table.

“We couldn’t afford a toaster. So the first time we got one home, I thought it was magical.

“How could a machine pop up such beautifully browned toasts, I wondered!”

Before long her fascination turned to curiosity and she couldn’t stop herself from dismantling the toaster to find out what lies beneath.

There was a definite pattern in there as she later broke laptops and cell phones to find out what made them work.

This celebrity scientist, who rubs shoulders with the likes of Richard Branson, has intentionally chosen a pathway that bypasses the traditional closed door meetings that nerdy scientists have with government and policy makers. Instead, she reaches out directly to children and educators to inculcate a love of science out of the classroom.

In the right spirit is Catherine McInally. Photo Christel Moore.

The founder-director of social enterprise Nanogirl Labs is also the author of No 8 Recharged. Her latest offering is a glossy hardcover of Kitchen Science cookbook for children with recipes they can experiment with their mothers and grandmothers.

Michelle admits that she has taken a huge personal financial risk for this publication. “I believe in taking risks about things I am passionate about,” said the girl who at the age of six wanted to fly and be a super.

Now older and wiser she said: “Surround yourself with like-minded people and work on that inner voice which says `you are not good enough’

“Start the day saying you are awesome,” she enthused a day before she flew to Hong Kong to launch the Nanogirl Lab where she will trains teachers, children and educators with the idea of developing the next generation of inventors and innovators.

This newly married, science superhero is keen to change the way the world thinks about science …and is on a roll to set up Nanogirl Labs in five countries.