Nanogirl: Meet STEM superhero, Dr Michelle Dickinson

Our editor Kate Barber chatted with Dr Michelle Dickinson, creator of Nanogirl, about the importance of STEM in our lives, why girls need role models in these fields, and why it’s great working with kids.

Nanotechnologist and Engineer Dr Michelle Dickinson brings Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to life for Kiwi kids. But for Michelle, the inspiration flows two ways: open-minded and curious children offer a way of seeing that world that we can all learn from, she says.

Tell us about your childhood.

I was a child in a military family, so we moved around every two to three years. My Dad was an avionics engineer, and I was a curious kid, so he would let me come and sit inside the planes he was fixing and watch him work. Growing up around aircraft electronics and engines had a huge influence on me becoming an engineer later in life.

What is it about science that inspires you?

I’m always inspired by science and its potential to help solve big global issues – like new medical discoveries that can save lives and new technologies that can help us live on earth more sustainably.

Tell us about nanogirl.

At Nanogirl, we have an incredible team of scientists and engineers who build beautiful products and experiences that help science come to life. No two days are the same in my work, and I love it that way – from visiting schools to performing big science shows to writing books about bugs and building a sustainable Bluetooth speaker! 

What’s it like working with kids?

Kids teach me so much about how we need to view the world – with an open mind and curiosity. It’s so inspiring to work with young people and see the world through their lens. If we are going to build a better future, we have to build a strong foundation for the next generations of creators and change-makers. I love helping kids to see that their ideas could be the next invention that changes the world.

Why’s it so important for girls to have role models, like yourself, in the stem fields?

Many of the STEM fields are male-dominated in New Zealand. The research shows that lack of visible role models is one of the reasons why girls don’t consider careers in these fields, even though, with the rise of technology, they are fast becoming some of the most sought-out and best-paid jobs around. At Nanogirl, we work hard to showcase positive female role models in science and engineering.

What do you do for fun?

Immerse myself in nature. I’m an avid kite-surfer, so I try to make time to head out into the ocean and let the wind take me places. There is something about being at the mercy of nature that really lets you feel her power. 

Any plans for 2022?

Covid-19 has made it so difficult to plan. We would love to tour our live, explosive Nanogirl show again, but for now we will keep that on hold. In the meantime, we are excited about our new Nanogirl’s ‘Super World’ series. The first one, all about New Zealand bugs, has just come out, and I’m loving seeing all the photos of Kiwi kids getting outside and learning about the superpowers of our tiniest native creatures.

Do you have any messages for parents and kids when it comes to understanding covid-19 and how our immune systems work?

Our immune systems are amazing; we have an incredible immune army inside us ready to defend against all sorts of things, including viruses and bacteria. Luckily children have really strong immune systems that are great at fighting off infections. 

Thanks to science, we have been able to develop vaccines that can give our immune system a bit of a head start when it comes to fighting things that they haven’t seen before. The vaccine is a bit like a karate class for our immune system, letting it learn and try out new moves without being in danger, so it’s ready to fight if it ever meets an actual virus particle. We are so lucky to live in an age where we have access to lots of different vaccines that help to protect us against many severe diseases.

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