Dr Michelle Dickinson, aka Nanogirl, is passionate about sparking wonder in science. Writer Marie Knowles caught up with the nanoscientist and storyteller to find out more about her partnership with icebreaker and how she's spreading the message of choosing natural for people and the planet.
What drives you? What are you passionate about?
I'm passionate about making positive change for the planet. And I do that through education, making sure everybody has access to education so they can make their own decisions about how they want to live and what they want to do with their lives. I’m a staunch advocate for making sure that everybody gets the chance to be the best person they can be.
“I'm passionate about making positive change for the planet.”
Who do you most admire?
I admire people who are authentic. I've been really lucky to meet people like the Obamas. They are authentically who you think they are. I love people who actually say, ‘This is my purpose in life. This is what I'm dedicated to.’
You teach kids science through alter-ego Nanogirl. How did she come about?
I was a scientist and I did real experiments and I wrote real scientific papers. And nobody read them other than other scientists. And at some point you have to go, how are the public getting their information? It's not from professors in academic institutions. It was a big step for me to move away from what was considered a well-respected career. But I feel more successful than I've ever felt in my life. Now I'm trying to break down complicated science to everybody so that they too can have the tools they need to make decisions.
“I've always tried to live my life as sustainably as possible.”
How do you make science accessible?
I didn’t make a science book. I made a recipe book: ‘Here's how to cook, plus all the secret science things that you probably wouldn't have picked up on.’ I try and show that science is everywhere. My character, Nanogirl, builds really cool things out of rubbish. She shows kids where to find it, and how to reuse it and repurpose it to make something amazing. If you can take kids on a journey of discovery, where they feel smart because they've learned something new, they take that with them for the rest of their lives.
Tell us about partnering with icebreaker.
I've always tried to live my life as sustainably as possible. icebreaker is an authentic product and it fits my busy lifestyle. My hobbies are climbing mountains, so I need things that I can wear in layers and I can trust. And once I found out that icebreaker made underwear, I was like, where has this been my whole life?
What do you love about wearing clothing made with natural fibers?
There are lots of things. One is I don't have to wash it as often. And I love that it is so soft. I don't feel like it's scratching me. I just feel like it's part of who I am.
As a nano-scientist, what do you want people to know about the fibers in their clothing?
When you throw something into a washing machine, what happens to it? What you don't see is the tiny microfibers that come out when you wash products - and where they go. Synthetic fibers, which are plastics, are tiny and they go into your washing machine and straight out to our waterways.
What’s your vision for the future of clothing?
We're currently wasting a whole bunch of energy that we could be absorbing through our clothing. Every time you move, you're rubbing things together. Could you have your phone in your pocket and be charging it? Clothing is going to become smarter than we are. We're going to look back and be like, remember when our clothing was dumb? Like it didn't do anything other than stop us being naked.
What do you want people to be aware of in terms of clothing waste?
I think clothing bins are a great place for you to go, "Oh, I feel better, it's gone to help somebody in need." But I think if we look at what actually happens to a lot of that clothing, I think people would be disappointed and maybe rethink what they did with what they threw away.
What are the options?
Make your clothing last as long as possible. Make choices at the beginning, not just at the end. How long will it last? Where has it come from? What has gone into making it?
“If we could make solar panels the way that nature makes leaves, we would have no energy crisis.”
What inspires you about nature?
Nature is the best engineer, ever. I aspire to be even close to what nature is. If we could make solar panels the way that nature makes leaves, we would have no energy crisis. Rather than trying to invent something new, let's step back and have a look around and think about how this has been done by nature already.
“If everybody made tiny changes, the impact could be massive.”
What change do you want to see in the world?
People don't realize that they individually have the power to make significant change for the next generation. They can choose not to take a car ride and walk instead. They can choose to change one of their products to be locally grown instead. If everybody made tiny changes like this, the impact could be massive.
“The planet knows how to work beautifully, so work in tune with it.”
At icebreaker, we're all about enabling people to move towards a more natural way of living. How do you move to natural in your life?
Most of the things in my home are natural products. I really try and figure out where things come from. I care about labels. I'm a researcher by nature. I try and if I can source things locally, go to local markets, meet the growers. And nature has always been my inspiration. I was a biomimetic scientist - I copied nature every day and pretended her ideas were my own because they're so great. The planet knows how to work beautifully, so work in tune with the planet, not against the planet.