Dr Michelle Dickinson – Nanogirl at the Auckland Arts Festival

Nanogirl sets fire to methane bubbles on her hand! All photos courtesy of Nanogirl on Facebook

Nanogirl sets fire to methane bubbles on her hand! All photos courtesy of Nanogirl on Facebook

MacDiarmid Institute Associate Investigator Dr Michelle Dickinson performed as her alter ego “Nanogirl” in the Auckland Arts Festival as part of ‘Think Science Day”. We sent along a number of Auckland Primary School teachers who had participated in Kōrero with Scientists programme, and one of them, Kelsy Fletcher contributed the the following review.

Michelle Dickinson performs science at the Great Hall as part of the Auckland Arts Festival. Photo courtesy of Nanogirl on Facebook

On Saturday 14th March, we rolled up to the Town Hall for a show that I knew very little about. I did know it featured the great Nanogirl (also known as Dr Michelle Dickinson, or @medickinson on twitter).

There seemed to be a million children in the lobby. Good, I thought. Kids excited about science. This is nice. Science can be a bit of a hard sell to kids in schools, so I was happy to see so many of them who, aided by proactive parents, had made the effort to come into town and watch a show dedicated to the wonders of science.

The show had a promising start. Lots of smoke machine action. Excellent. The usual “make sure your phones …” message ended with “… are ready to record awesome explosions!”

Photo courtesy of Nanogirl on Facebook

The explosions were indeed awesome, the science was indeed robust. Nanogirl’s premise – superpowers – was a good way to explore the physical and material worlds, and we went through concepts like electricity, gas, fire and ice. There was lots of audience participation and the children especially were bursting to be included, especially after two helpers got to keep their “airzookas”.

Each section of the show had a basic structure; Simple questions, a bit of theory with examples, followed by some experiments to demonstrate. The experiments were aimed towards creating something to harness a force and turn it into a superpower. The conclusion was usually, cool – but does it fit in my handbag? No? Back to the drawing board.

ping pongThe experiments were the kind of full on stuff that I could never manage to do in a classroom, so it’s brilliant to sit back and watch someone else, e.g. Nanogirl, do it on stage. We were treated to several balloon explosions, which reminded me happily of my dad using his welding gear to fill plastic bags with pure oxygen … and then sticking them on the Guy Fawkes bonfire. There were bottle rockets, a shopping trolley propelled by fire extinguishers, an amazing air vortex contraption, a cloud in a bottle, and an amazing experiment involving flaming methane bubbles held in the palm of Nanogirl’s hand.

To end, there was a fantastic experiment involving a bottle filled a wee way with liquid nitrogen, sealed and flung into a metal rubbish bin, quickly followed by two sacks full of ping pong balls. The nitrogen warms up and turns back into a gas, creating a high-pressure environment inside the bottle… which eventually explodes enthusiastically, flinging ping pong balls all over the Great Hall! It was brilliant (and left an impressive hole in the side of the rubbish bin!).

The unsung hero of the show was, of course, Nanogirl’s loveable but incompetent assistant Boris, whose gormless and silent behaviour provided many laughs. Good old Boris. She should definitely keep him on.

Overall? An hour well spent (and what a great length, especially for children). Keep an eye out for the next Nanogirl show, I’d highly recommend taking kids of any ages. Science is so exciting, and she did a brilliant job of reminding us of that.