One of New Zealand's best-known scientists, Weekend Herald columnist Dr Michelle "Nanogirl" Dickinson, has been out on the road promoting her latest offering to inspire tomorrow's bright minds: The Kitchen Science Cookbook. It's packed with experiments that kids can try at home using ingredients from their own pantry. Dickinson caught up with Herald science reporter Jamie Morton during her tour.
Tell us about the book and how you got the idea for it. Was it a twist on try-at-home science experiments for kids you hadn't seen done before?
Our work at Nanogirl Labs brings us in contact with parents all around New Zealand.
I found I was having conversations with parents – usually mothers – who wanted to do science at home with their children, but didn't know where to start.
They hadn't been confident in "science" when they were at school, and so weren't confident in sharing science at home.
What I noticed was that many of these parents would be totally confident following a recipe to cook a meal or bake a cake - sometimes they even had one there for me.
If they didn't get the result they wanted, they'd adapt the recipe.
They were already doing science - they just didn't see it that way.
I realised that if we could create a book that presented science in a familiar "cookbook" format, we'd be able to help families explore science at home with confidence.
I shared the idea with the team at Nanogirl Labs and they loved it – we all set to work, and the rest is history.
You've been travelling the country promoting it. What's been some of the most memorable feedback you've received?
We've travelled all over the place in the last couple of weeks – it's such a joy sharing the book - and a whole lot of science - with our readers in person.
There's been so much great feedback, but if I was to choose one it'd be from Peter – a fireman who brought his young daughter along to one of our book store events.
I was doing one of our experiments from the book with 130 or so young scientists; Peter was talking with my co-founder at the side of the room.
He said, "You guys are changing New Zealand. My daughter looks up to scientists now, rather than just the latest pop idol. She's fallen in love with science because of you. Thank you.".
For us, that's what it's all about.
We also love the social media feedback we receive – amazing photographs of families exploring science together at home, with The Kitchen Science Cookbook open on the counter.
And I understand you're keen to see schools using it?
We've found that a lot of teachers are buying the book to use in their teaching, and they've told us how useful they're finding it.
We love that, and we're now working now to create additional resources that'll make it even more valuable in the classroom.
There's also been interest from overseas in it. Is this a movement you'd like to see spread beyond New Zealand?
My co-founder Joe just got back from the London Book Fair, looking for partnerships to help us bring The Kitchen Science Cookbook movement to the world... it was a really successful trip.
We've had some great support internationally already, and we're excited to make this project impactful at scale around the world.
Our other work takes us around the world, and we really see the positive impact the book can have in other countries.
We're really passionate about bringing Kiwi educational innovation to the world.
Between Nanogirl Labs and your other work in the science sector you've been busy. Have you had any breathing room to ponder what your next project might be?
We've got a huge amount going on at Nanogirl Labs.
We have spent the last 12 months exporting our Nanogirl Live! theatre show around the world.
For instance, currently we have it in five countries and five different languages, which is amazing.
It really never stops, but it's such a blast, we really love what we do.
The Nanogirl Labs team will tell you that I come up with about five new ideas each day - some of which are more crazy than others - and I'm just one member of the team.
We're always looking ahead to see how we can best create an impact – and as a social enterprise how we can build viable business models around activities that are positive for the world.
I can't share our next major project quite yet, but it's under development now - we can't wait to share it with the world.
For now, we're focused on helping as many people as possible connect with The Kitchen Science Cookbook.
You've been one of our best-known science communicators for some time now. Over that period have you noticed any shift around STEM subjects and our young showing more interest in them? Or are we still a long way away from making these subjects more attractive to people?
I've seen a real positive shift over the last couple of years around STEM subjects, and a real push to get more students engaged with science and technology-based activities.
With our work around New Zealand we still see a big divide between the cities and some of our more rural communities, and we are working hard to try and close that gap.
Overall I still think we have a long way to go, but I'm ever the optimist and always grateful for the work that so many people have been doing to help increase the awareness of STEM around New Zealand.
• The Kitchen Science Cookbook ($50) can be ordered online.