Yesterday I took my grand daughters Tandia who is eight, and six year old Chloe to see Nanogirl's science show at the Auckland Town Hall.
Nanogirl is the alter-ego of Doctor Michelle Dickinson who runs a scientific laboratory out of the University of Auckland. Over the last few years, Michelle has been bringing science to the people, and in particular the children of New Zealand.
A few years ago Dr Dickinson was the toast of TedX Auckland when her chocolate sauce slid right off off her white sneakers thanks to the nanotechnology created in her lab. She has since been invited to Richard Branson’s island to talk about solving some of the world’s big problems; showed 100 experiments to 100 different children as part of the 100 Day Project; and as part of the Auckland Arts Festival she presented her biggest gig yet. Auckland Town Hall filled with excited girls and boys and their parents (and "mum's boyfriend" <= one of the volunteers hauled up onstage) to continue her quest to bring the scientific method to the people.
Neither Chloe nor Tandia knew what to expect. I had told them that Nanogirl was an engineer and scientist who did experiments to explain science, but to two little girls who haven't had much in the way of experience in this realm, they couldn't imagine what was going to happen in the show.
Piped music played quietly across the buzz of the audience waiting for the show to start. A really nice moment was realising that the whole hall was filled with little girls singing along and dancing in their seats to Taylor Swift's Shake it Off.
Then the music faded away and the lights dimmed. It was time for science to begin. Nanogirl came out in her white lab-coat and clip board. She talked us through the different powers held by gases and fire and ice and air pressure with experiments to prove the science and further her quest to become a superhero.
Nanogirl had broken her Tesla Coil earlier in the day, so couldn't create lightning inside, it really only delayed the excited energy a few moments. She wheeled out her massive smoke-ring-maker - the Airzooka - that shot tumbling rings of smoke across the auditorium that's when the kids went bananas; running and leaping to break the momentum of these gorgeous rings of smoke the energy of the room expanded with fully engaged, enthralled audience.
Nanogirl's assistant, Boris, is a Master of Expressions. He communicated his emotions and every one understood when he got zapped by static electricity or felt sad about freezing his own finger off in the liquid nitrogen which caused Nanogirl to fake-growl him. The girls were quite concerned that Boris's nitrogen-frozen finger shattered under the force of a hammer. They were still talking about it in the car on the way home; not really sure how it had reconstituted itself. I think this might be a good show sequel with Nanogirl concentrating on the potential of nanotechnolgy next time.
The final explosion was spectacular - Nanogirl was right when she said it would be the loudest explosion any of us had ever heard - and such a wonderful theatrical experiment to finish with. It was amazing and encouraging to see how many children and their parents queued to meet Nanogirl afterwards - she’s a rock star scientist with none of the associated ego or pre-show boozy rider.
It's so fantastic to see kids becoming fans of science - especially girls. It was an amazing show - full of explosions and fire and experiments and humour. Spot on and the looks on the girls' faces - awe and trepidation, wonder and laughter - such a fantastic show for all of us.
I heard a talk on the National Programme a few weeks ago about girls not tending to go into the fields of science because they don't see science or engineering is a 'proper job'. That part of the problem might be because they don't see any of the women in their lives choosing science or engineering as a pathway of study. Michelle Dickinson made a real difference to some of the girls in that Town Hall yesterday - she showed them that science is exciting, and interesting, and practical, and real.
Tandia said "It's like magic, but for real."
Every child in that room is now a little bit closer to understanding the potential of contributing to science in the real world - and how to make their own clouds.
- Dr Michelle Dickinson's Blog
- Nanogirl Facebook
- Auckland Arts Festival: An extravaganza of explosions (NZ Herald)
- 100 Day Project
- NZ scientist lands trip to Branson’s island (NZ Herald)
- Dr Michelle Dickinson TedX Auckland (video)
- Follow @medickinson on Twitter