Dr Michelle Dickinson

Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to science

Her alter ego's name, "Nano Girl", was coined by schoolchildren but top scientist Dr Michelle Dickinson may be more of a superhero than she gives herself credit for.

The Auckland University nanotechnologist's tireless efforts to get Kiwis hooked on science, kids especially, have earned her a Queen's Birthday Honour.

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It comes after she was awarded the Prime Minister's Science Prize for Science Communication and named the New Zealand Association of Scientists' science communicator of the year.

Dr Dickinson has become a familiar face in the media, excitedly discussing new breakthroughs.

Away from the spotlight, she shares her passion in talks and demonstrations at schools and museums, and through her child-focused charity OMG Tech!

Dr Dickinson earned the name Nano Girl through her many school visits, and said the title had become bigger than herself.

"It's just become something [the kids] aspire to be like."

Her own interest in science stems from her earliest years, when she learned soldering and computer coding by the time she was just 8 years old.

In 2009, she set up Auckland University's Nano-mechanical Research Laboratory - the only lab of its kind in the country - and her work there has continued to explore the mechanical properties of materials, from nano to macro scale.

Being a national science ambassador has not slowed down her academic performance - she has authored 40 peer-reviewed scientific journal papers over the past five years, with four more just accepted for publication, and regularly speaks at international conferences.

Last year, billionaire Sir Richard Branson invited her to his private Necker Island to discuss technology and sustainability.

Despite a growing science communication movement, she said many Kiwis remained intimidated by science.

"I've had a real problem with parents not teaching their kids science, because they are afraid they don't know the answer and then don't have the conversation, rather than just look it up together."

She pointed out that even scientists couldn't give answers until they too began investigating.

For now, she has launched a scientific inquiry of her own - finding out who put her forward for the honour. "I'm very humbled and I would love to know who did it."