Double Helix blog

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 →

4 January 2017
by David

Super strong pencil

Someone is wrapping a yellow string around a pencil.In this trick, you’ll wrap a shoelace around a pencil and a strip of cardboard. The string seems to pass straight through both, tearing the cardboard, but leaving the pencil untouched!

You will need

  • Pencil
  • 2 rubber bands
  • Thin cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Shoelace
  • Some friends to impress

Continue Reading →

22 December 2016
by David

New dish helps spaceships phone home

A large radio telescope dish.

Canberra has a new dish!

Voyager, Pathfinder, Cassini. Humanity has sent out dozens of plucky little space probes to explore our solar system. But when these robots need to call home, who’s listening in?

Luckily for them, NASA has three deep space communication complexes scattered around the world. One of them is right here in Australia, operated by CSIRO. And they’re celebrating the opening of a brand new dish. Continue Reading →

15 December 2016
by David

Sharing some cakes

three cakes, ready for sharing

How can we make sure everyone gets a fair piece?

Picture this: you’ve just bought a nice little cake, just for you. Then your friends show up, wanting a piece. Lucky for you, mathematicians have developed some pretty cool ways of sharing.

You will need

  • Three cakes (include a fancy one with icing, filling and sweet decorations on it, and at least one rectangular one)
  • Knife
  • Friends to share with
  • A plate for each person
  • Measuring cups, spoons, scales

Continue Reading →

12 December 2016
by David

New dinosaur! But how did it get here?

Two large sauropod dinosaurs on the shore of a lake.

Savannasaurus may have looked something like this!
Image: © Australian Age of Dinosaurs, Travis R Tischler

Scientists have discovered a new Australian dinosaur, and it’s a big one! Several giant bones, some over one metre long, were uncovered near the town of Winton in central Queensland. But what’s got scientists all worked up isn’t what it looks like: it’s where it came from.

Scientists have named the new dinosaur Savannasaurus elliottorum. It was a big, four-legged plant eater, and looked a bit like a brontosaurus. Savannasaurus was as tall as a giraffe, but much heavier. Continue Reading →

5 December 2016
by David

Counting by division

An electric calculator

A calculator is very handy for this activity

Let’s look at a few interesting patterns you can get by dividing. Some of these patterns need a lot of digits, so get the best calculator you can find.

If you have a computer with the internet handy, there are some good online calculators to use, such as Some mathematicians might prefer to use long division with paper and a pen.

You will need

  • Calculator
  • Paper and pen (optional)

Continue Reading →

30 November 2016
by David

Spot the species difference

Two adult giraffes and a younger one.

Turns out giraffes are not all the same species!

Spare a thought for taxonomists. Their job is to separate life into groups, from the great kingdoms of plants to animals, all the way down to individual species. Sometimes they have an easy job. For example, brown bears are easy to distinguish from polar bears. Other times, the differences are harder to find, such as spotting the difference between giraffe species. Continue Reading →