Su­per­hero of sci­ence com­ing to Qtown


She’s known as Nanogirl -a su­per­hero of engi­neer­ing - but among Michelle Dick­in­son’s key mes­sages is that you never know what some­one else has ex­pe­ri­enced.

‘‘Every­body has had chal­lenges and ev­ery­one’s got their story,’’ she told par­tic­i­pants at the re­cent Queen­stown Cham­ber of Com­merce Women’s Busi­ness con­fer­ence.

Now a se­nior lec­turer at Auck­land Univer­sity and a direc­tor of her own tech­nol­ogy com­pany, Dick­in­son grew up in homes with no books.

‘‘Grow­ing up on mil­i­tary bases, my job be­fore school was to look for bombs un­der cars. Ev­ery kid I knew did.’’

Her UK-Mal­tese fa­ther and Hong Kong-Chi­nese mother met at the age of 17.

Her mother was il­lit­er­ate and when Dick­in­son was young her fa­ther be­gan study­ing elec­tri­cal engi­neer­ing. His equip­ment took over the kitchen ta­ble and in­cluded a sol­der­ing iron. He let her play with it - only growl­ing when she broke the toaster.

‘‘I’m an en­gi­neer today be­cause I learned to sol­der when I was eight,’’ she said.

Her fa­ther died after serv­ing in both Gulf wars and her mother went through dif­fi­cult times.

‘‘So I de­cided to do things my own way and not fol­low the road of my par­ents. My courage came from comic books. In my head I was go­ing to to­tally be a su­per hero,’’ she said.

In­stead she worked three jobs, got a schol­ar­ship to study engi­neer­ing and qui­etly worked her way to the top of the class.

How­ever, she ini­tially failed her de­gree be­cause of a fear of pub­lic speak­ing.

With the help of a drama teacher she was able to make her com­pul­sory pre­sen­ta­tion but did no more pub­lic speak­ing un­til 10 years later, in 2012, when she was asked to present at TEDx in Auck­land.

Her fears re­turned but so too did her child­hood dream. She de­vel­oped her su­per­hero al­ter ego - Nanogirl.

’’Nanogirl was born and she’s a bad ass girl who does sci­ence,’’ she said.

Now Nanogirl is a brand that reaches out to chil­dren all over New Zealand, teach­ing about sci­ence with ex­plo­sions and cod­ing and mak­ing sci­ence fun.

Later this year she will visit Queen­stown as Nanogirl for the first time.


Nanogirl, Dr Michelle Dick­in­son is bring­ing sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and engi­neer­ing to life for young peo­ple right across New Zealand.

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