Skip to page content
You are here: Home > Profiles > Zoë Glentworth

Zoë Glentworth

Zoë is a 17-year-old student who has been investigating the synergy of different plant extracts to create an effective insect repellent spray.

Zoë GlentworthWhat do you do on an average work day?

I have just finished my final days at Palmerston North Girls’ High School (PNGHS). At school I run the art committee where we created five massive murals to the theme of empowering women, including murals of Michelle Obama and Kate Sheppard. We hosted the tremendously popular haunted forest, where we transformed the dark room into a scary forest.

After school I play Badminton, Tennis and Volleyball, and play and coach hockey. Our PNGHS team made the Top 8 of Federation Cup in hockey, for the first time in 18 years. 

I also volunteer for the Red Cross, and have been helping a refugee family who have arrived from Malaysia settle into Palmerston North.

I enjoy tramping too. One of my most recent adventures was the around Mt Ruapehu, a five day tramp to complete the Gold Duke of Edinburgh. This was an amazing tramp were we got to climb the side of a waterfall and enjoy a spectacular view of the mountain all the way around.

What are you studying at high school?

This past year I have studied Design and Visual Communication (DVC), Painting, English, Physics and Statistics. In the past I have taken Computer Science and Chemistry, but unfortunately there are not enough hours in the day to take all the subjects I am interested in. At school I have learnt code language including Python and JavaScript, which will be beneficial in years to come.

Zoe tramping

Are your studies related to what you do now or what you want to do as a career?

Although I wasn’t aware at the time, looking back on my intermediate years, my fondest memories were created in the art room and science lab. Seven years later and I am going to study a Bachelor of Architectural studies at Victoria. Well that is the plan! 

I have been investigating the practical sciences in CREST (CREativity in Science and Technology) projects throughout high school, and also taking a couple of earth science papers next year.

Project wise, for my Level 3 Painting board I investigated the NZ housing crisis, and my DVC project, I developed a temporary, portable shelter for emergency relief- for people affected by migration, natural disasters, and the refugee and housing crises.

I have recently finished my Gold CREST project and, after five years of research, we have developed an effective insect repellent spray. Doing these projects has helped me decide where I want to head in terms of a ‘career’: to use problem solving, science and creativity to make the greatest impact for those in need, making change in areas such as disaster relief and the refugee crisis.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?

Although I’m 17 and can’t really speak with the wisdom of someone who has been through the whole journey of life, my advice would be to choose an area of study because you are curious about it, and because it gets you out of bed in the morning!

My physics teacher (who educates us on more random facts than physics course work!) was telling us that back in the day you used to do a degree because you were interested in it, but now you do a degree to get the right qualifications to get a potentially boring job sitting at an office for the rest of your life.

Don’t get me wrong; if you enjoy that sort of thing go for it! But if anyone ever tells you there is no money in science (which I have been told on numerous occasions) it’s better to be enjoying what you do than stuck at a boring job that you don’t want to be at.

Zoe receiving award

What are some of your career highlights so far?

The biggest highlight would be completing my Team Gold CREST project this year with my teammate Katie Liu [see Katie's profile here]. Gold CREST is a two-year investigation, which combines creativity and problem solving in science and technology.

We wanted to develop an effective insect repellent spray from the native plant Kawakawa and the non-native plants Lemon Eucalyptus and Yarrow by investigating whether the extracts from these three plants work together synergistically. Commercial insect repellents contain chemicals that, while effective against insects, may be harmful to humans and the environment. So we saw that there was a need to investigate the insect repellency of different plant extracts and use that information to develop plant-based insect repellents in the future.

We followed the traditional Māori process of Rongoā, using New Zealand native plants for their healing and medicinal properties. We developed ten formulations that were equally effective insect repellents, and are hoping to develop the spray for commercial development in the future. 

With completing CREST, Katie and I shared our research in a public seminar and we also entered the Manawatu Science and Technology Fair, where we were awarded the Premium Science Prize/ First in Fair.

Throughout high school I have completed Bronze, Silver, Silver Challenge and Team Silver Challenge CREST projects. I have developed an insect repellent balm with kawakawa in partnership with The Herb Farm, who now sells it. Another project I worked on was developing a plant-based sunscreen with insect repellent. From this project I discovered that blackcurrants block 99.5% of UVA rays. This is in the development phase.

I was lucky to attend Realise the Dream in 2013 & 2014, the National Science and Technology Awards. Alongside 20 other students the Governor General presented us with medals in Government House.

Throughout this process I have been sharing my passion of science and technology with schools around the Manawatu, and also sharing my research at the Manawatu Royal Society branch meetings.

Katie Liu (left) with Zoë Glentworth (right)

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?

Recently I did internships at Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research, Fonterra, and Massey University's College of Sciences. It was extremely interesting how different each of the scientists’ work was: from developing drones to checking water levels in Antarctica at Landcare Research, and from developing mozzarella cheese for pizza to getting the perfect ‘stretch’ at Fonterra. One of the most fascinating areas I learnt about was using biocontrol agents to control weeds in New Zealand, where scientists introduce insects that have genetically evolved to feed on one specific weed to controls the weed without posing a large risk to the rest of our ecosystems.

Problems like this - that many of us do not know exist - are being worked on and solved by New Zealanders in STEM fields right this minute. So I think engaging in STEM is very important for our country, for us to know about what is happening in this space and what problems are being investigated.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?

There are so many reasons why it is important to have more women working in STEM!

As I come from an all-girls school I have not experienced the stigma around gender and STEM subjects, instead I am surrounded by awesome girls who love science, technology, engineering and maths, who will surely succeed in these areas in the future.

After attending a Girl Up conference in Wellington, I was educated on the fact that within STEM, women’s pay is significantly less for having an equivalent job to a man. Based on the internships I have attended, I would think that I would have to transform into a middle aged white dude to have a career in a STEM area!

This is clearly not the case, and as we move into the future with gender equality in action, hopefully the stigmas around STEM subjects and gender will change, and also the pay gap too - that would be nice.

Zoe playing hockey

Zoë Glentworth is a 17 year old student at Palmerston North Girls' High School, who has recently completed her Team Gold CREST project investigating the synergistic effects of different plant extracts to develop an effective insect repellent spray.

Read CREST teammate Katie Liu's profile

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

View all profiles