2017: My first year down under (Part 2)

Ok, I’m back. Have you caffeinated up? There are six more months of life/work in NZ to cover… I’m fully aware that this is now becoming more of a journaling exercise than an attempt to write something that one of my followers might be itching to read. Forgive me!

July was a very chilled out month. I’d finished my Sustainable Seas project at the end of June, so I was mostly working for the C-Prize (and watching the Lions games on TV). I proposed an idea would allow us to share the ‘journey’ of the competition’s ten finalists with the wider NZ public – a series of online ‘lab books’ or journals. My focus shifted to developing that, which helped me to get to know the teams really well.

My Forbes story on Kaynemaile was published. It tells you what links orcs to architecture, and I promise it’s a good read! I was also approached to put a proposal together for an illustrated book, and that took quite a lot of time (SPOILER: nothing came of it). We hung out with friends, explored Wellington, and I continued reading papers about gecko feet for Sticky.


Cue: another insane month. I started it off in style by flying to California – I’d been invited to SciFoo, an unconference held at the Googleplex. Before heading to the land of Google, I spent a few days in San Francisco with my lovely friend Rachel, eating, drinking wine, and generally exploring the city. I also got to have lunch with Mary Roach, which was a bonus! Arriving in Palo Alto, I met up with three Twitter friends who were also Foo Campers – Jess Wade, Abbie Hutty and Sam Illingworth – turns out, they are all at least as awesome in real-life as they are online 🙂 I wrote a long and extensive blog post on SciFoo, so I won’t repeat myself here. It was a fricken brilliant experience.

The day before I flew home, I went to Stanford University (a 20 min walk from my hotel) – to visit the Biomimetics and Dextrous Manipulation Lab of Prof Mark Cutkosky. There, we talked about his work on gecko feet and bioinspired robots…. You’ll be able to read MUCH more on Mark, and his collaborator at NASA, Dr Aaron Parness, in Sticky.

Arriving back in NZ, I started working for Callaghan again, and met up with the team behind my local council’s STEM outreach scheme. The Korean edition of Science and the City was also published in August, but I’d have to wait a little while to get my hands on a copy of it. The original edition of SATC turned 1 this month too… and the paperback came out in the UK/Ireland!

Something very exciting happened in my personal life too – on a sunny winter afternoon in Wellington’s Shelly Bay, Richard asked me to marry him! It was a complete surprise, to both of us, I think! But we are absolutely delighted. We started looking for jewellers right away – we wanted to design a ring together – and found the absolute perfect person in Nick from The Rolling Mill. After our consultation with him, we were very excited to see his initial ideas.

And then, right at the peak of engagement-fever, I headed off to Ireland and the UK for SIX WEEKS! Part-work, part-holiday, the trip had been booked back when we thought Rich might be able to travel with me. In the end, issues with annual leave meant that I’d to go on my own. Not ideal timing, to be honest! But, I arrived in Ireland on Monday 28th August, very excited to see my family.


The main motivation for my trip home was a family wedding – my eldest nephew Mark was marrying the very awesome Grace. The weather hadn’t been great in the days leading up to their big day, but the sun came out just in time! Everyone looked amazing, and it was a ceremony to remember. The dinner and shenanigans that followed were also fantastic (though a little harder to remember, for some reason…. #amateurdrinker). I spent loads of time with my family and friends for the week that followed, and even squeezed in a talk at the Science Gallery, for Women in Research Ireland.

Then, it was off to London, where I had three main priorities – 1. Catch up with friends, 2. Do some work, and 3. Book wedding stuff (yep, we’re getting married in London)! Thankfully, I achieved all three in my time there. I got to hang out with SO MANY people – I stayed with my London family (thanks Goffes and O’ Farrell’s), became Anna’s flatmate again, temporarily, and just generally went on lots of adventures with my lovely friends. I booked our wedding ceremony venue, our wedding reception venue, and the transport between them. I even managed to book our dream photographer too, and do some dress research. Resullt!

Work-wise, the trip was a success too – I carried on working remotely on C-Prize, I interviewed several scientists AND I got to visit the factory of Formula1 team, ForceIndia, all in the name of Sticky!

I was honoured to appear on a panel at Ford’s City of Tomorrow event that they held in Central London. Chaired by New Scientist’s Valerie Jamieson, the panel also featured Sarah-Jayne Williams (Ford), Prof Mark Miodownik (UCL), and Chris Sheldrick (What3Words). We had a lively discussion, in a room full of people with contrasting ideas. It was fun! Read a brief summary here.

The next day, I headed off to the ExCel centre in the London Docklands for a much bigger event – New Scientist Live! I’d been invited to give a talk about Crossrail in front of a big, very varied audience. Thanks to Peter, Andrew and Tom at Crossrail, I had access to an incredible array of images, gifs and animations, so the slides came together pretty quickly. If you’d like to have a look at them, tweet or email me!

The even itself was HUGE, but thankfully, my talk went really well. I had a queue of people buying my book afterwards! My lovely editor Anna came along, as did a few friends. I had a few conversations that may well lead to other things, as well as meeting some very keen future engineers and scientists. It was a really special day. September 30th is my birthday, but with my flight back to NZ scheduled for just two days later, I took it fairly easy.


I have to admit, as sad as I was to leave my family and friends, I was very happy to see Wellington out of my window seat on the plane. The rest of the month went by in a blur of Callaghan work, a new project with the Measurement Standards Lab (MSL, the NZ equivalent of NPL!) and work on Sticky. I also published a Forbes article that ended up being rather popular – does pushing the button at a crossing actually do anything?

I published an interview with my favourite material scientist and my eternal-supporter Prof Mark Miodownik – you can have a read of it here.


The month kicked off with a highlight – I was chuffed to be invited onto a very popular radio show here in NZ – Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, and really hope I get the chance to do it again soon! My seven minutes of fame are available here 🙂 And then it was time for another holiday! But as usual, I tagged some work onto the end of it.

We headed up to Auckland, and stayed in an awesome AirBnB with our friends Darius and Louise. We were mainly there to go to the V8 Supercars Race Weekend at Pukekohe Raceway. I’ve been watching V8s on TV for years now – it’s my favourite racing series – but this was my first live action experience. On Day 1 it rained A LOT. We felt pretty smug in our decision to buy gumboots (wellies) and rain ponchos. Day 2 was scorching hot, so I spent a lot of time in the shade. The racing was AWESOME though. Can’t wait to go back next year!!

Richard had a conference in Tauranga (about a 2 hr drive from Pukekohe), so at the end of the 2nd day, we headed off to the conference hotel. Turns out, we were given a massive upgrade – it was the first time that’s ever happened to me! – And our room was amazing. While Rich conferenced, I went off to visit Scion – a crown Research Institute that looks into forestry. That are doing some AMAZING work – everything from genetically modified pine trees that don’t damage native forest, to using waste kiwifruit skins in bioplastics. I left with a buzzing brain.

My work with MSL and Callaghan continued this month, as did my rugby obsession – the World Cup meant that I had plenty to watch! I met up with some Wellington-based scicommers for a very lovely dinner, and I was interviewed by Cara Santa Maria for her very popular Talk Nerdy podcast. Unfortunately, on her travels back to the US, Cara had her laptop stolen, so our interview has been lost to the ether. We’re hoping to do it again over Skype soon though, so watch this space!

And finally, we got to collect our engagement ring! I feel unbelievably lucky to have such a gorgeous piece of jewellery on my hand.


The final month of the year started with a bang – I finally received hardcopies of the Korean edition of SATC! It is a thing of beauty. The paper quality is ridiculously high, and I love the cover design. I also signed up to support the 2018 Innovative Young Minds programme here in Hutt City / Greater Wellington. We’re still figuring out the details of what I’ll be doing, but I’m looking forward to getting involved.

My C-Prize project came to a close this month too, with the Grand Final held in Auckland. There’s a summary blog post if you’d like to hear about the night itself. I also worked with a designer to develop an abridged version of the lab books that I’d been writing with the teams – it looks SO GREAT. You can download a PDF of it here. Other than that, December was mostly about Christmas prep and getting outside to make the most of the fantastic weather. Richard’s sister and her family came up to Wellington for Christmas – it was ace having kids around for all of the Santa-related excitement!

I made a start on next year’s BRNZ Annual Report – yep, they asked me back! – And I loved chatting to some of their PhD students and emerging scientists. Looking forward to getting back on that horse in early Jan. And I published one last Forbes story – this one is on the simple upgrade to cruise control that could keep traffic moving. And finally, I found a speaker’s agent! I’ll tell you more about it once I’ve signed on the dotted line, but it will hopefully mean that I’ll be doing lots more talks in NZ in 2018 🙂

December wasn’t all light and sparkles, though. I felt homesick (really for the first time) for a lot of the month. Christmas is such a big deal in my family that I think I’ll always struggle with being away from them at this time of year. I chatted to all of them over the holiday period though, which definitely made them feel closer. And we’ll get to see them all in September too, yippeeeee! We stayed in for NYE, and I’m so glad we did. As you can see, it was a BIG and very busy year.

Roll on 2018!