Nano Girl to visit Christchurch schools in November

Dr Michelle Dickinson, senior lecturer at The University of Auckland, intends to start a charity that will provide students with what The Mind Lab does, but for free

Image credit: Cartoons by Jim

Image credit: Cartoons by Jim

Nano girl, the superhero powered by nanotechnology, will be visiting eight Christchurch schools in the space of four days in November this year to promote technology to students.

“These are schools that I have been Skyping with for sometime. This will be the first time I go down there and meet the students. I am quite looking forward to it,” said Dr Michelle Dickinson, senior lecturer at The University of Auckland and founder of NZ’s only nanomechnical laboratory who dons the superhero outfit every time she visits a school.

“I have visited pretty much every school in Auckland. I speak to every student from five years up to 16. It is great to see the amount of interest these students exhibit in technology and science. I have been overwhelmed by the response from schools. I do wish I could visit more schools but I am short on time and I do have a day job,” said Dickinson.

Speaking to Computerworld NZ during Microsoft’s TechEd conference this year, Dickinson rued the lack of government funding in the country for science R&D.

“Our government funding is terrible. If I didn’t fund my research and lab privately, if I didn’t have a lot of industry contacts from overseas to fund what I do, there is no way I would survive here. The reason I can do this and one of the reasons no one else has set up a lab like mine before, is because I bring a lot of international contacts from previous consulting jobs.

"NZ does not have much big business that could potentially support R&D as well. Nanotech is growing and there are pockets of us doing research in the country, but we don’t have much government funding to push it forward,” said Dickinson.

She added she provided her thoughts on where funding should to the Green Party and these were incorporated in its policy document that was launched this week.

Her lab in the University of Auckland has around eight PhD students, three Masters, four honours and a lot of undergraduates who are keen on playing with the technology and getting some hands-on time with the equipment.

“I will take on anyone as long as I have time or my students have time to train them. If you grow the education base and you are able to provide the talent, then you can grow the businesses in the country. My goal is to provide that training,” said Dickinson.

Appreciating the work that Frances Valintine was doing at The Mind Lab, she pointed out that for all the benefits that it offered students, it was still only accessible to the country’s privileged because of its cost.

“I will be setting up a charity soon where we will provide students with exactly what The Mind Lab facilitates, but it will be free. We are going to do what I think the government should be doing. We are going to fund it ourselves through the industry and we are going to teach kids who don’t have access to computers at schools or at home.

“This will be for students, from the age of five to 16. My demographic is kids that we are leaving behind, and I aim to bring in a good percentage of girls. There will be more information about it next week. I don’t want to talk about it now because we are still confirming the space for it, and the sponsors have yet to sign on the dotted line,” said Dickinson.

The charity will start in Auckland, but will reach out to Christchurch and Wellington eventually.

“We will be starting with a crowdfunding project, not because we need the money but because we want to grow awareness. We will be running a workshop in October in our new space where 80 kids are going to come and we will do robotics, coding, 3D printing, science. We are going to lodge that on PledgeMe and people can donate lunches to these kids or bus rides, or anything along those lines,” said Dickinson.

Dickinson also urged TV stations and other media outlets to create more science interaction for kids through prime-time programmes that talked about science and technology.

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