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I like to tell people that I watch wood dry

Rosie Sargent, guest researcher at InnoRenew CoE, employed at New Zealand Forest Research Institute Scion; main area of research: wood modification and timber drying

  • Where were you living in childhood and where do you live now?

I grew up in Nelson in the South Island of New Zealand. I now live in Rotorua in the middle of the North Island of NZ. Rotorua is a great place to live, but I still miss the South Island.

  • What have you studied and what were the motives for your decision?

I studied chemical and process engineering. I studied engineering because I liked science, but also like making things, so I wanted to do something practical. I am now back in science, but I am still very much an engineer at heart.

  • How would you describe your work to someone outside your field?

I like to tell people that I watch wood dry! I look for better ways to take logs and make them into wood products that perform well and are economical to produce.

  • What does your typical working day look like?

My work days are usually a combination of planning new work (writing work plans, sorting out logistics like sourcing wood or arranging mill trials) and analysing and writing up data that other people have collected.

  • What makes you excited about your work?

I’m really passionate about solid wood, and I love big machinery. Seeing our ideas happening at a large scale (e.g., mill trials) is really exciting.

  • And what is the biggest challenge at your work?

Having too many great ideas and not enough time and money to explore them all as much as we would like.

  • Which scientist or scientific achievement are you fascinated by and why?

Alfred Russell Wallace who came up with the idea of evolution at around the same time as Charles Darwin. Wallace was a naturalist working in Indonesia – the conditions he worked under must have been very difficult. He also described the Wallace Line which separates islands in Indonesia that have Asian animal and bird species from those that have Australasian animal and bird species. He didn’t know what caused this, but geologists have since found that the line roughly matches up with a plate boundary, so the islands on each side of the line formed a very long way from each other and have slowly been moving together.

  • Tell us about the work of art (books, music, movies, theatre, dance, visual arts) that has a special place in your life.

I really love the painting of Graeme Sydney ( He paints landscapes in Central Otago which is an area with a very different climate to the rest of New Zealand (dry with hot summers and cold winters). I love going there on holiday because it is a beautiful area, but also because you feel like it is in a different country to the rest of NZ.

  • What have you read, listened to, or watched lately?

I recently read Zed, about a dystopian future where everyone’s behaviour is predicted by computer algorithms. Of course, the algorithms are perfect, but people keep behaving in unpredictable ways. The solution to this was to encourage the public to behave in more logical and predictable ways. You can imagine how well that worked…

  • Describe your very first impression of Slovenia.

The first time I came to Slovenia (2015) I didn’t know a lot about the country and was very interested to see what it was like. Leaving the airport in Ljubljana, the first thing I saw was paddocks with round bales of hay wrapped in green plastic – identical to every bale of hay in New Zealand! My second impression was how the buildings and countryside changed from looking very Central European around Ljubljana to looking very Mediterranean in Koper.

  • What do you like about Slovenia and what do you miss most from your homeland?

I love all the fruit trees and vegetable gardens you see. I grow my own vegetables, but in New Zealand, people hide their vege gardens at the back of the house and have flower gardens at the front. New Zealanders should be more proud of their vegetables :).

I miss my large workshop at home. I’m in a small apartment here with a small shared courtyard, so my bicycle is living in the kitchen. If the bike needs fixing, or it is too wet or muddy to go in the kitchen, it’s hard to find somewhere else to put it.

  • Which place on the Slovene coast do you like the most?

I really like the hills behind Izola. There are great views of the coast, the countryside is very pretty and there are some nice roads and tracks for cycling.

  • What makes you enthusiastic?

I love creating things – coming up with an idea, then seeing it turn into something real. This applies to complex work projects as well as hobbies like sewing and woodwork.

  • Characterize your life’s guidance or an important realization (or epiphany) you have experienced.

Gustave Flaubert said, “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” This really resonates with me because being organised in my daily life really does help me to dedicate more time and energy to being creative.

  • What does the charm of wood mean to you?

Every piece of wood tells a bit of a story about the tree it came from, and what has happened to it since then.