One of my favourite events of the year took place this week and I was lucky enough to be involved again for the fourth year running.
The Bright Sparks awards, our nation's largest technology, electronics and software competition for schoolchildren, is a whole day filled with young people who are way smarter than me, showcasing ideas and inventions they have spent months or sometimes years building.
As I walked around pressing flashing buttons and squeezing handmade levers, while 11-year-olds explained how they debugged their software code and 3D printed their one-way valves, I noticed a shadow fall upon me in the show hall. Jason Collingwood's impressively intimidating human-sized Skyrise robot pulled up carrying a box and putting it on the table next to me.
Hand-built and programmed using Vex robotics kits, this machine can carry out a whole lot of lifting and moving tasks before folding itself down into a 48cm cube when it's finished its jobs.
For those less inclined to have a lifting robot pet, the more gentle light-mixing app designed by Amelia Cordwell allows you to easily control stage lighting with a simple swipe of your phone screen rather than a large, button-filled mixing deck, enabling peaceful dimming of gentle colours to calm your next robot dance show.
One of my favourite inventions was the wakey-wakey device created by Aurelia Wilberforce, an alarm clock that plays one of 10 of the most annoying sounds in the world according to science. The only way to turn off the alarm is to complete a mental game or answer a basic maths problem, ensuring that you are fully awake and ready for your day, rather than having the option to sleepily hit the snooze button.
If blaring alarms aren't your cup of tea, then William Wilks' Kea Cavitometer might be perfect for the bird lovers in your family. It's an impressive device that monitors the mountain cavities where kea are known to live and detects when they are being used by the birds. The system is designed to beam back any information on the Department of Conservation (DoC) radio frequency, so researchers can keep an eye on nesting kea without having to disturb them or having to spend hours climbing mountains to monitor sites.
When I talk to top scientists and engineers they all have a story about something from their childhood they built or experimented with that started a lifelong passion for the Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) sector. Anecdotally, most female engineers I know had an engineer for a father, which strengthens my beliefs about the power of positive and accessible role models in shaping the careers of our young.
A competition such as Bright Sparks showcases some of our youngest talent, but being a show-and-tell event, it also allows students who might struggle with academic exams to see there are other ways to achieve success.
Disappointed by the low numbers of females previously entering the awards, this year I personally funded a female overall category to target girls and help them to see that electronics and engineering are as much for them as they are for the boys.
There is always opposition to gender-specific awards, and a male-only award was also given out, but I think the numbers spoke for themselves when this year the number of females who applied to the competition rose five-fold.
I'm not at all implying that the female award resulted in more females participating, but with such a gender imbalance in the Stem fields, any coincidental increases must be worth supporting.
Dr Michelle Dickinson, also known as Nanogirl, is an Auckland University nanotechnologist who is passionate about getting Kiwis hooked on science. Tweet her your science questions @medickinson.