#comm2inspireYesterday at Scitech nearly 100 science communicators gathered to network, share ideas and hear from some of Australia’s exciting and most influential scientists and communicators.

Highlights of the day included an opening address by the funny, inspiring and very switched-on Professor Peter Klinken, WA’s Chief Scientist.

5 quick quotes from Professor Klinken at #comm2inspire:Peter Klinken

  1. Scientists need to wave flags, ring bells and share their work: “You might’ve done the very best experiment in the world, you might‘ve just won the Nobel prize…but until you actually communicate with your peers and the outside world, no one knows what you’ve done.”
  2. Communicators need to know who they’re communicating with: “What is really important in communication, clearly, is understanding where the other person is coming from. If you’re speaking a foreign language [overly complicated science], they’re not going to understand it. It’s almost insulting.”
  3. People fund science (if their politicians let them): “At the end of the day, who’s paying for the research? …Taxpayers. Every person is contributing towards our ability to do science. We need to bring them along, so they’ll be our supporters.”
  4. People appreciate science (mostly): “The community values science, but if you don’t communicate with them, and bring them along in the journey, they think you’re a bunch of nerds. It is incumbent upon all of us to be able to talk to the community.”
  5. As Australians we take our fabulous lifestyle for granted (but how long will it last?): “We do not value science, innovation and creativity as much as we should…but we know everything about Eric Mackenzie’s ACL joint.” Paraphrasing Lord Alec Broers: “The pace of technology is relentless…Nations that do not keep up and invest in in this area will be consigned to a second world.”

And another super keynote by Australian of the Year burns surgeon Professor Fiona Wood, who rushed from her burns unit to give a flawless, wryly funny and thoroughly engaging presentation before rushing to her next appointment: her energy, passion and schedule are thoroughly awe-inspiring. I could watch her present all day.

Fiona Wood5 quick quotes from Professor Wood at #comm2inspire:

  1. Hospitals are a place where science and communication must go hand in hand: “I face people whose lives have changed in an instant. When you meet me professionally, you’re having a bad day…It is a privilege to be a medical practitioner. It’s a privilege to influence people’s lives. As a clinician I need to understand that I am a conduit [between science and people who benefit from science].”
  2. Today is not as good as it gets: “If today is as good as it gets, then I may as well go home. I believe tomorrow is going to be better. That is my fundamental belief, and my fundamental coping strategy.”
  3. Science communication is like an onion: Prof Wood likened communicating science to peeling an onion, suggesting we should explain layer by layer, depending on the level of interest, and stop before their eyes start streaming. “Why keep it to yourself? Why expect that people couldn’t understand it? The onus is on you.”
  4. Know your audience: We all have a passion that can be switched on to galvanise and engage: “Everyone has an interest. Sometimes you have to dig a bit to find it.”
  5. Our community depend on us: “Unless we communicate, we won’t get funding. Without funding, we won’t make progress.”

And so what did I personally learn? I’ve been in science communication for nearly 15 years, and these were the tips that resonated most with me as things I could do better every day:

A fab slide from on working with the media.

A funny slide on working with the media, from palaeontologist Dr Kate Trinajstic .

5 top science communication tips I picked up from #comm2inspire:

  1. Want someone to remember your message? Tell them a truthful and emotive story.
  2. Want to work with a scientist to bring the message of their research to a wider, non-science audience? Tell them that.
  3. Want people to click on your link? Be bold with your headline.
  4. Want to turn a roomful of awkward strangers into a group of joke-cracking, knowledge-sharing friends? Try 20 minutes of speed networking (even crazier in a noisy room).
  5. Want to know what to do next? Ask yourself the question: What does success look like?

I was thrilled to be part of yesterday’s conference. I really had a fab day, so thanks to the organisers (especially for the photos I’ve used here) and Inspiring Australia and to everyone who was part of it. It’s great to be working with you!

How’s 2015 treating you?

I’m loving it! I’ve just finished reading The Luminaries, which is AMAZING and totally worth the months of dedicated reading it took me to finish. I’m also:TH 160

– writing a fast, funny chapter novel (at least my children think it’s funny),

– preparing for the 2015 heARTlines festival of children’s literature and book illustration,

– writing about rooftop wind turbines, gold leaching using glycine and nutrient spillover in farming, and

– working on some fab fun Scientriffic and Helix articles on diving for treasure, stunt doubles and the secret life of reindeer.

Busy? Yes.

Enjoying it? Double yes.

Need to go to bed early? You better believe it :-)

Digging in the dirt

Below is a short article that first appeared in this month’s Scientriffic… When I read Terry Gates’ comments, I think digging Rhinorex out of the rock is much like editing a novel out of a mess. What do you think?

“King noIMG_5089se” dinosaur discovered

Some dinosaurs had bony head crests, others had spiky armour. This newly discovered herbivore had an enormous nose.

Named Rhinorex condrupus, where rhino is the Latin word for “nose” and rex means “king”, the dinosaur’s fossilised bones were found in Utah, USA.

“It took two years to dig the fossil out of the sandstone it was embedded in,” says researcher Terry Gates. “It was like digging a dinosaur skull out of a concrete driveway.”

The bones had hardly moved in the 75 million years since the dinosaur died, a clue that leads Terry to suspect Rhinorex died quickly, perhaps in an attack by giant crocodiles that roamed the swampy estuary where it lived.

Terry estimates Rhinorex was around 9 metres long and weighed nearly 4000 kilograms, including its nose.

“The purpose of such a big nose is still a mystery…We are already sniffing out answers to these questions,” says Terry.

How’s your 2015 shaping up? Invented anything crazy yet?

I’m writing a manuscript with my five-year-old, which is quite an entertaining process. He has some off-the-wall ideas, which is just what I need for this book!

If you’re feeling creative, why not give yourself ten minutes to play on paper. Maybe try drawing something crazy-fun, like these awesome yokai artworks.

Thanks to Takeshita Demons fans for sharing their fab work! I love it! Spooky stuff!!

Cristy Burne eating grilled cricket

Mmmm. Eating grilled cricket at Scitech. Tastes like toast.

You read it here first:

This year I am finally going to finish that book. You know. The one I’ve been writing for THREE YEARS!!

It should never have taken this long. I have all the excuses, and it has been a fabulous learning journey, but at the end of the year day, it’s time to put the thing to bed.

This year is the year.

I hereby swear and promise: if I don’t finish writing (and editing!) my book this year, I’m going to eat a grilled cricket. Make that two grilled crickets.

Oh, that’s right. I’ve already eaten two grilled crickets. (All in a day’s work.)

But seriously. This year is the year.

So, enough of this post. I’m off writing!
And enough reading of this post: be off with you too. Go and do something you desperately want to do.

Happy New Year people!

DemographicsWhat’s on your reading list for 2015?

Any books featuring diverse characters?

Julie M. Fiedler recently contacted me about the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award and prepared a fabulous presentation on the award, which is for diversity in children’s fiction, and was won by Takeshita Demons in 2009.

Diverse books to read in 2015

In her presentation, Julie recommended a number of books featuring diverse characters for use in the classroom, and I’m adding them to my To Read list for 2015: lack of diversity

  • Esperanza Rising – by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • Bud, Not Buddy – by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes – by Eleanor Coerr
  • I Never Saw Another Butterfly – a collection by Jewish children who lived in the concentration camp Theresienstadt

And I recommended one of my all-time favourite books:

Take The Long PathTake The Long Path – by Joan de Hamel

This is the book my Kiwi grandfather gifted to my youngest sister, just weeks before he passed away, so it’s special in our family as well as being an incredible book: a thrilling adventure story about belonging and heritage.

It has everything I think a great children’s book should have and I’ve just bought myself a copy for my birthday.

I can’t wait to read it again! Have you read it? It can be tough to find a copy, so good luck (or you can ask to borrow mine :-))

Download Julie’s presentation on the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award

There’s nothing I like more than making lists to mark the start of a New Year, and 2015 is no different.

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to clear out the Piles of Important Things, to leave more space for thinking and writing and creating New Important Things.

And while clearing, I found this:

Santa science show

Graham Walker and I with our hands-on Santa-science show. What fun!

It’s a clipping from the local paper, celebrating a super-cool science show that the fabulous Graham Walker and I wrote and performed at the Canberra Centre a few more than ten years ago, just for laughs, just because we loved doing science shows, just because we could make up bad puns and people would clap :-)

The G-nome project?

Liquid nitrogen and Rudolph’s nose?

Teleportation down the chimney? (Remember this was the year that Australian National University scientists teleported a laser beam for the first time! Oh, the magic!)


As you can see, I’m having a ball going through the pile, and sticking to the Do It Now school of meeting your New Year’s goals.

Help! It’s Jan 1 and already I’m flailing!

If you’d like a little nudge for making your own New Year resolutions, you might like to paint eyes on a daruma, read my #1 recommendation for writers writing resolutions, or simply soak up some encouragement from another of the Important Things: my first ever letter of acceptance.

Happy 2015 everyone! Let’s make it a ripper!

What are your resolutions this year? Care to share?



Sophie Sakka dressing NAOAs well as being an amazing scuba instructor, experienced Japanophile, and all-round-fabulous-woman, my lovely friend Sophie Sakka is a humanoid robotics researcher.

When we first met, Sophie was teaching a robot to jump.

Now, she’s launched a non-for-profit organisation aimed at bringing robotics and the arts closer together, and within the reach of ordinary people.

8706_679726695425929_4471715117916355550_nI think Sophie’s terrific, and wanted to share her work with the kids of Australia, so I wrote an article for CSIRO’s Scientriffic magazine.

And now, with thanks to Scientriffic, I’d love to share that article with you…(and PS: if you have curious kids aged 7 to 10, and you’re looking for something fun to read and do, I totally recommend a Scientriffic subscription.)

AtSuper-models-Scientriffic just 58 centimetres tall, NAO is dressed to impress. Modelling outfits by French designer Marie Rebérat, the robot recently starred in its own fashion show, performing dance routines programmed by robotics researcher Sophie Sakka.

“I entered Marie’s shop to buy clothes for myself,” says Sophie, founder of arts-and-robotics organisation Robots! and researcher at the Research Institute in Communication and Cybernetics of Nantes, in France. “I had the robot with me, and Marie fell in love with it.”

Sophie and Marie decided to stage a fashion show, starring NAO.

“We used Marie’s outfits and my programming,” says Sophie, who is teaching NAO how to copy human movement. “The show was such a success that we extended the idea, running public shows for a month.”

Performing might come easy for some, but for NAO, every move must be carefully programmed.

“NAO can also sit down and stand up,” says Sophie, “and I’ve made it climb stairs. The hardest thing for NAO is balancing.”

And as we approach the mad, final run-up to Christmas, it feels like the hardest thing for me is balancing too. I hope you’re having a great Silly Season and I’m looking forward to a fab 20145 (already?)!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,657 other followers

%d bloggers like this: