Madder Red: A Story of Art and Science

Imagine for a moment that you could travel four thousand years into the past, to a marketplace in Egypt. Not just any marketplace. You are in Thebes, in Upper Egypt. In the year 2000 BC. The pharaoh Mentuhotep II has recently died, but in the course of his reign Egypt was reunified and Thebes is now the capital. Thebes is growing into a powerful city. And where there is power, there is colour. You come across an archer’s quiver, and marvel at its intricate woven design. But it’s the colour that impresses… Read More

A Second Wind: Biocontrol on Lord Howe Island

A collaboration between CSIRO researchers and community members on Lord Howe Island is making headway in the fight to protect the island’s biodiversity from an invasive noxious weed. Read the full article at Australian Geographic online   Crofton weed is growing out of control particularly in the southern mountains of the World Heritage Listed Lord Howe Island. As you can see from the image above, and here again below, the weeds are thriving on the cliffsides.   This threatens a number of native species, including the critically endangered twiner Calystegia affinis (pictured below)…. Read More

Math is beautiful…

If you haven’t yet discovered the stunningly beautiful mathematical animations of Cristóbal Vila, then you’ve been missing out.  My favourite is this mesmerising video ‘Nature by Numbers’. Do yourself a favour and take a few minutes to watch!     Dragonfly & flower photo credits: Fiona McMillan

The Best Australian Science Writing 2016

  Great news!  My story Lucy’s Lullaby has been selected for inclusion in The Best Australian Science Writing 2016! I’m joined by wonderful writers around the country, people whose work I admire and truly enjoy.  The anthology is edited by the amazing Jo Chandler and will be published by NewSouth Books very soon… in fact it will be officially launched in early November in plenty of time for holiday gift giving (hint hint) and you can pre-order now.  It’s also beautifully high vis, so you can’t miss it.  

Lucy’s Lullaby: How losing our grip 3 million years ago may have set us on the path to language

It was dark when the pain began, I remember that much. I blinked half-awake into an unfamiliar room, wrenched too quickly from the depth of sleep. Consciousness was reluctant, and slow in coming. The glow of the small digital clock said 2 a.m. The pain faded and sleep tugged at me. I was only just at the surface, still within its grasp. I drifted, remembering combinations of the last words I’d heard or perhaps dreamed, “Get some sleep, as much as you can. It will be the last for a long time.”… Read More

The Best Australian Science Writing 2015

Joy and much excitement!   I’m thrilled that my writing has been selected for inclusion in The Best Australian Science Writing 2015! The anthology is edited by Bianca Nogrady and published by NewSouth Books, and was launched this week.  I can’t wait to hold my copy in my hot little hands.  The fact that I’m not currently holding it is entirely my own fault for moving house and forgetting to tell NewSouth Books where to send my copy, as if they were supposed to just sense my location somehow.  So I must wait… Read More

Back on board…

Well, this has certainly turned out to be a hectic year.  I can’t complain, though, it’s been chaotic in a good way. Indeed, there have been some brilliant adventures. At one point, I even climbed a mountain quite by accident. Some of my friends might point out that this is becoming an unfortunate habit of mine and that I should really start making a point of consulting topology maps before ever leaving the house.  They are of course right, but more on that later. For now, I’m glad that it’s all calming down now and I can… Read More

The hummingbird and the storm

The aerodynamics of a tiny bird in high winds   Ah, hummingbirds.  What’s not to love? Humans have been marvelling at these tiny creatures for eons, baffled by their fascinating ability to hover and their stunning wing speed. For quite some time, it was thought that hummingbirds had flight dynamics closer to that of insects. Even with decades of analysis with high speed cameras, it was only relatively recently that high-tech analysis began to reveal how hummingbirds accomplish their unique aerodynamic trick. Hummingbirds weigh between 2 and 20 grams, most less than… Read More

The war, the mouse, the protein and the lovers: the curious tale of the search for a common cold vaccine

  “Would you like 10 days free holiday and travel expenses paid?” The advertisements were enticing. They turned up regularly across England for decades. Posters. Newspaper ads. Leaflets. They offered time away in the countryside near Salisbury. Fresh air. Relaxation. Free meals. Not only that, you would be paid for your time. Sound lovely? Married couples were welcome.  Singles were invited, too.  There was even the prospect of romance, provided that those interested in courting remain at least thirty feet apart at all times.  It wasn’t that the organisers were prudish, they… Read More

Cold Snap: the physics of food security

How a single mutation in one gene leads to cold-tolerance in rice   In the summer of 1980, Korean rice farmers were getting nervous.  The weather was cooler than usual. The unseasonable temperatures had begun in July and were continuing through late August.  When September began, things got worse. Even the autumn temperatures were lower than normal. In the end, it was the worst harvest since the Korean War. More than three quarters of a million hectares of rice crops had been damaged, equating to a loss of around 1.5 million tons of… Read More