Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.
Eleven to thirteen-year-old girls across New Zealand are thinking outside the box on tackling real-world challenges.
Not having access to clean drinking water, shelter or electricity are just some of the problems that young Kiwi girls are learning to solve with innovative engineering, as part of a series of after-school workshops called Hello Café.
In Rotorua, a group of 14 girls met at the Arts Village to take a look at renewable energy and why it is a more sustainable source of electricity than burning coal, gas and oil.
They also learnt how some places, like most towns in Kenya, are not on the electricity grid so need to get their power from alternative sources like the wind and sun.
With this in mind, the challenge was to build a model wind turbine – using only card, tape and a pencil – that worked well enough to physically lift a cup of mints tied to it with string.
The girls had to think carefully about how to get the turbine blades to spin in the ‘wind’ created by a hairdryer, so that the string would wind around the axis, shorten and then pull up the weight.
They all got very close, with the leading team managing to completely lift the empty cup – but this was ‘disqualified’ as it was not weighed down.
Then the same team, after adding the full weight and readjusting their turbine blades, managed to lift the cup and mints a few centimetres off the ground.
“My favourite part today was making the turbines and seeing how the air can move the spinning part,” says Gargi, aged 10.
The renewable energy workshop comes after eight others in the ten-part series, with the final session – designing and building toilets for refugees – being held just before Christmas.
“Making the wind turbines was really fun. My favourite out of all the other ones I’ve done is the brickmaking one, because it was kind of like making cake where you mixed everything up together,” says 14-year-old Brittany.
Kaitlyn, 13, adds, “I liked making the wind turbines even though ours didn’t work. The water filtering day was really cool because I didn’t know how to do it before.”
As well as giving girls an opportunity to develop innovative thinking and a taste of what it is like to be an engineer a big part of Hello Café lies in its Ambassadors: women who already work in these areas.
This means that the course is not only run 'by girls for girls', it presents role models to show girls that if they want to become an engineer or scientist, they can.
“I’m doing this because I think it’s so important that girls can see engineering and science as real options for them,” says Rotorua Ambassador Viola Hoepfinger, who makes sure that geothermal power plants produce as much electricity as possible.
Rotorua’s second Ambassador Cara Lauder, whose work helps to keep our roads safe, tells us she doesn’t think there’s just one ‘tipping point’ moment for kids who become engineers or scientists.
“I think it’s more like lots of little moments that add up, and these workshops we’re doing can help to make more of those little moments for these girls.”
You can find out about other projects funded through the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund here.