We celebrate the winners of this year’s Sir Peter Blake Leadership Awards by profiling a Blake leader each Monday.

Dr Michelle Dickinson used to think the term "leader" meant being strong, loud and powerful. But now the high-profile scientist, otherwise known as her alter ego "Nanogirl", has a different view on that.

"I've realised my life now involves a lot of people, especially young people following me and what I do," said the Auckland University nanotechnologist, who was honoured with a Blake Leader Award at this year's Sir Peter Blake Leadership Awards.

"To me, leadership is ensuring I'm sure of my values, beliefs and priorities so those who might want to follow my path have an open door and clear direction to a place that empowers them to be the best they can be."

Considering the heavy academic demands Dr Dickinson juggles, lecturing students and exploring the complex mechanical properties of materials at a cutting-edge research lab she established six years ago, it's difficult to think how she has any time for work outside the university.

Advertisement

Yet she founded the charity OMG Tech!, which allows young people to interact with leading technologies and ideas, while the 100 Days of Science event she ran introduced dozens of school children to science experiments and demonstrations.

Add to this the many talks she gives at museums and schools - it was school kids who coined her Nanogirl nickname - as well as her many appearances in the media commenting around science, and her efforts advocating women in science.

She believed all of this had also made a positive impact on science literacy in New Zealand.

Read more: Twelve Questions: Dr Michelle Dickinson aka 'Nanogirl'

"My growing public profile has given New Zealanders the chance to interact with a real scientist and through a lot of school visits provided a positive role model for children to meet and look up to so they can aspire to be something different from a musician or an actor."

In just the past 12 months, her hard work has also been acknowledged with the Prime Minister's Science Prize for Science Communication, the New Zealand Association of Scientists' science communicator of the year award, and by being made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in this year's Queen's Birthday Honours.

Dr Dickinson believed the role of science in society today was "crucial" - especially as the public was grappling with such weighty issues as climate change and healthy diets.

"My goal isn't to create more scientists, it's to help New Zealanders to feel more confident about discussing topics that affect their lives using scientific information that they don't feel intimidated by," she said.

"By bringing scientific conversations to the dinner table and making the subjects more approachable and interesting, the result of New Zealand creating more scientists will come."

Dr Michelle Dickinson
•Nanotechnologist and senior lecturer at Auckland University.
•Founder of the charity OMG Tech!, which aims to get children interested in science and technology.
•Regular media commentator and advocate for women in science.
•Learned soldering and computer coding by the age of 8.