One of the country’s most recognisable scientists has been awarded one of the year’s top honours for her work in making science accessible to a wide range of New Zealanders.
Dr Michelle Dickinson, who uses the popular twitter handle ‘Nanogirl’ (@medickinson), has been named Science Communicator for 2014 by the New Zealand Association of Scientists.
Dr Dickinson is a senior lecturer in Chemical & Materials engineering at the Faculty of Engineering, University of Auckland. She is a regular guest and commentator in media, including regular appearances on TV3 and RadioLIVE.
But she is also a roving science ambassador, organising events aimed at making science fun for young and old alike. Recently she completed the “100 Days of Science” project where schoolchildren used everything from marshmallows to balloons to learn the complex theories behind scientific phenomena. She has also co-founded the charity OMGTech which teaches technical skills including coding, robotics and 3D printing to children from low decile schools.
“I have a passion for showing that, no matter your age or education level, science does not need to be scary - it’s fun,” she says.
“It can also be empowering to gain an understanding of the principles and theories behind new technologies that are going to help shape our future world because the more understanding we have, the more we feel we can have a say on decisions that are going to affect all of us.”
Dr Dickinson obtained her PhD from Rutgers University (USA) and her MEng from Manchester University (UK) in Biomedical Materials Engineering. Her research involves measuring the mechanical properties of materials from the nanoscale through to the macro scale and she has a special interest in biological material behaviour.
She believes strongly that everyone should have access to learning about science and how things around us work.
“Sometimes we all feel like we are moving into a brave new world that only a few of us are really going to understand, particularly when it comes to some of the more complex concepts that lie behind very advanced technology,” she says.
“I see one of my roles as being to convince people that science is not scary and that the more engaged we are, then the better off we will be in helping make the best decisions for our future and the future of the planet.”