Position: Psychologist, Public speaker, Television presenter Field: Psychology, Public speaking, Television Organisation: Goldfish Wisdom Ltd.

Nigel Latta loves adventure. He says it’s what first drew him to science.

… the people who have real adventures are the scientists!

Nigel Latta

As a primary school kid, he enjoyed watching television documentaries featuring world-famous undersea French explorer Jacques Cousteau. He would imagine himself and Jacques, out on the open sea, zooming around in an inflatable boat with pods of dolphins leaping around them.

He also had a microscope and a chemistry set – but it was the adventures of the scientists that he watched on TV that really had him hooked.

“Science and scientists have the biggest adventures there are,” says Nigel. “There are pretend adventures – like in the movies – but there are people who have real adventures, and the real adventurers are the scientists.”

As he grew up, Nigel chased his dream to be a marine biologist – like Jacques – studying zoology and maFrine science at university. He even planned to go on his own big science adventure – a journey to Antarctica – but missed out when he didn’t tell his university lecturers in time! That’s when he decided to become a psychologist.

On Thin Ice: Nigel Latta in Antarctica

Fast forward a number of years, and Nigel got to fulfill his big science adventure by spending 3 weeks in Antarctica filming the documentary series On Thin Ice: Nigel Latta in Antarctica.

Nigel starts off at Scott Base and then finds out why field experiments are conducted in Antartica rather than remote data collection. He looks at how Antartica's historic huts give us an insight into the lives of early explorers and their science and then he meets some of New Zealand’s scientists working in Antarctica. Despite the extreme conditions, Antarctic life and ecosystems thrive and Antarctica's unique environment is an ideal location to study global climate change

Throughout the documentary series, Nigel emphasises that, in Antarctica, science and adventure have always gone hand in hand. The living conditions and modes of travel may have improved since Scott’s day, but the sense of discovery continues.

In the footsteps of the great pioneers before me – Scott, Shackleton and that Norwegian bloke – I’m heading to Antarctica, one of the most challenging and unforgiving places on Earth. I’m going to find out how people manage to live on the frozen continent, what they are learning and what it means for us back in New Zealand.

Nigel Latta

Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up

Nigel’s next science series, Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up​, involved adventures of a different kind and he wasn’t scared of looking dumb when making this series. He relished giving new things a go. “You can’t just tell people about stuff,” says Nigel. “You’ve got to show them.” And that’s what he’s been doing, as you can see in his TVNZ series Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up.

Imagine how much fun he’s had meeting all sorts of scientists and engineers from across New Zealand, the craziness of putting some of his wacky ideas to the test and the immense satisfaction when things (eventually) worked – like when the helium rocket carries the recording Nigel’s made into space (in the Space episode), or when the opera singer actually cracks glass (in the Sound episode).

Then there was the physically challenging stuff, like staying in the freezer to test whether a beanie really does keep your body warmer (in the Weather episode) or hanging upside down for hours in a hidden harness (in the Gravity episode) – he says he was hobbling around for days afterwards! The scariest, though, was climbing the Sky Tower (in the Lightning episode) – something he feels really disappointed in himself about.

“I’m still annoyed at myself about that,” he says. “You’re roped in by professional riggers, the only way you could fall is if you smuggled in a knife and then spend 20 minutes cutting the rope. But my brain was having none of this – and I thought, you wuss!”

His series has proven really popular, and Nigel is hoping that there’ll be more opportunities to bring what’s happening in New Zealand science onto our TV screens. He’s particularly keen for young people to experience ‘hands on’ science for themselves and for them to see how being interested in science can lead to much more than you think.

Science is looking at the most important questions on the planet, and it’s doing the most exciting stuff that you could possibly do. I just can’t think of anything that is even more exciting than science.

Nigel Latta

So, from dreaming of science adventures, to living them in real life – it has confirmed for Nigel that scientists have the best adventures that there are!

Activity ideas

Check out other New Zealand scientists and some of their extreme adventures.

Jack Thatcher – chief navigator of the Waka Tapu
Miles Lamare – marine scientist and diver
Allan McInnes – Mars rover engineer
Liz Girvan – microscopist

 

    Published 9 June 2015, Updated 28 September 2015