Double Helix blog

17 March 2017
by David

Cool stars and comfy planets

A star and seven planets

Meet the seven planets of TRAPPIST-1 in this artist’s impression.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Is there life on other planets? It may seem like we’re alone in the universe, but there’s still hope. The race is on to find signs of life on Earth-like planets, which have atmospheres and liquid water on the surface.

Recently, it was announced that scientists have discovered seven planets orbiting nearby star TRAPPIST-1, each with the possibility of liquid water. Continue Reading →

7 March 2017
by David

Maya numbers

An excerpt from the Dresden Codex.

Want to learn how to read these ancient numbers?

The numbers that we use are not the only way to write numbers. You might know how to count with tally marks, or read Roman numerals. But there are plenty of other ways to write numbers. This one comes from the Maya people.

You will need

  • Pen and paper

Continue Reading →

27 February 2017
by David

Measuring malaria on your breath

A scientist standing near a computer, analysing malaria.

CSIRO scientist Amalia Berna and her team are developing a new way to diagnose malaria.

It’s really annoying to get bitten by a mosquito. Your skin often swells, and the bite can itch for days. But in many places in the world, that small bite isn’t just annoying. It can cause a life-threatening disease: malaria.

Malaria is a very tricky disease. Once you are infected, it can take weeks before you start to feel sick. Even then, malaria feels just like the ‘flu. Blood tests are expensive, and it can take several days to get the results, so most people don’t get tested. They just stay home and wait to get better. Sadly, not everyone recovers – malaria kills almost half a million people worldwide each year. Continue Reading →

7 February 2017
by David

What’s wrong with our tomatoes?

A bunch of rite tomatoes on a bush.

Can tomato breeders make tomatoes tasty again?
Image: Penny Greb, USDA ARS

They’re bright red, a bit crunchy, and they don’t really taste like much. The standard tomatoes you can buy in a supermarket are a bit boring to eat. But if you’ve ever grown tomatoes yourself, you’ll know how sweet and full of flavour they can be. So what’s happened to the humble tomato?

It’s not just your imagination. For years, supermarket tomatoes have been getting less and less delicious. But now, an international team of scientists is on the case, trying to bring back tasty tomatoes. Continue Reading →

20 January 2017
by David

When crystals align

A microscope image of several tiny cubic crystals.

A microscopic look at metal organic framework crystals
Image: CSIRO / Dr Paolo Falcaro and Dr Dario Buso

Inside a small sample of powder, there hides a gigantic secret. In just a teaspoon of the stuff you’ll find the entire surface area of a football field. It sounds like something from Back to the Future, but for CSIRO scientists it’s the norm.

The sample contains Metal Organic Frameworks, or MOFs, and they are made up of crystals that grow in random directions. Because of this unpredictability, it is hard to make them useful. That is, until now. Continue Reading →

9 January 2017
by David

Who knew? Sea birds fight climate change!

Several puffins sitting on a poo-stained rock.

Sea bird colonies are often covered in poo.
Image: Emil Kepko via

You might think we know everything there is to know about climate change. We know that greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, are trapping heat. And we know that average temperatures are climbing worldwide. But there’s still lots for us to learn, and new discoveries are being made all the time. For example, did you know that arctic seabirds fight climate change? Well, it’s not the birds themselves. Actually, it’s their poo.

Huge colonies of sea birds often nest on rocky outcrops. And lots of nests means lots of bird poo! Technically known as guano, bird poo contains lots of ammonia, which is a chemical often found in the fertilisers that farmers use on plant crops. In fact, people used to mine bird poo to make fertiliser! If the poo is left out in the weather – and it always is, because birds aren’t very good at cleaning – some of that ammonia makes it into the air. Continue Reading →