Last year I had the amazing chance to chat with Solar Impulse pilot André Borschberg. I found André to be an incredibly inspiring guy: brave, dedicated, visionary, charismatic but also humble…and did I mention brave?

His team’s incredible solar-powered plane is right now breaking all kinds of records and changing the way we think about ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’

Below is some of the article that came out of my interview with André, first published in CSIRO’s awesome Double Helix magazine. I hope you find his words as inspiring as I do!

(Interested in science? Want to inspire your kids or grandkids? Subscribe to Australia’s Double Helix mag.)

SEEK THE SUN: Adventures in solar

By Cris Burne for Double Helix

IMG_7036On 9 March 2015, Solar Impulse took to the skies in an attempt to fly around the world.

The plane’s pilots will need courage, speed and endurance…but not a drop of fossil fuel. Because this plane doesn’t need heavy petrol tanks, noisy engines or polluting fumes. What it does need is sunshine.

Solar Impulse’s impressive wings are covered in solar panels: light-weight versions of those you see on rooftops. Silicon in the panels absorbs the Sun’s energy, booting electrons into motion and creating electricity.

We had to build an aircraft that uses very little energy, so we can fly [at night] with batteries that we charge during the day,” says pilot and engineer André Borschberg.

This aircraft is a demonstration of ways we can save energy, and how best to use the energy we have available,” he says.

We can do this not just in aviation, but in everything we do … in the way we build homes, cars, washing machines, refrigerators.”

From problem to opportunity

Solar Impulse’s round-the-world trip is split into 13 stages. But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. The team had planned to fly from China to Hawai’i in June, but bad weather forced a landing in Japan on the way.

When they resumed the flight from Japan to Hawai’i, disaster struck. The plane’s batteries overheated and needed repairs. With winter in the northern hemisphere approaching, Solar Impulse was grounded until sunnier days.

Fortunately in Hawai’i we have the perfect infrastructure in terms of hangar, airport, people who are welcoming … the problem turned into an opportunity,” André says.

We can always get something out of difficulty. People who fail are already much more advanced than people who have never tried.”

The flight from Japan to Hawai’i took five days and nights of non-stop flying, earning it the world record for longest solo flight without refuelling. It’s also the first time a solar plane has crossed an ocean.

Very often we set our own limits, because people tell us something is impossible,” says André.

People say the Earth is completely explored, so what can we do?

“I think for the new generation, what they can do is to develop ways for us to live better, to live with less energy, to live in a way that better protects the wonderful environment we have received. That’s where they can explore.”

IMG_7033Inside Solar Impulse 2

  • From wing to wing and down to the tail, the plane sports 17 248 solar cells
  • The plane weighs 2300 kilograms: about the same as a small car and less than one per cent of the weight of an A380 Airbus
  • Lithium-ion batteries take up a quarter of the plane’s weight and store solar energy
  • Four battery-powered engines receive about 340 000 watts of power each day: enough to drive a motorcycle.
  • Daily rations include 2.5 litres of water and 2.4 kilograms of nutritional and mushy meals.



RiAus-Ultimate-Science-Guide-2016-1-228x300.pngI recently had the pleasure of working with RiAus (Australia’s national science channel) on their 2016 Ultimate Science Guide.

USG2016 is a free magazine distributed to every school in the country, with the aim of inspiring teens to consider aiming for an awesome science and/or tech career.

My article (It’s Not All Rocket Science)(aha ha) showcased careers in space science and was incredibly interesting to research and write.

(I think if I’d read this article as a teen, I might be a space scientist now :-))IMG_6934

So, if you’ve ever wanted to engineer suits for astronauts, design Mars rovers, listen for radio waves from the dawn of time, or even write a best-selling space-science novel that could turn into a best-selling hit movie…check it out.

IMG_6935The mag is available for free online or you can ask to see a paper copy at your local school.

Because seriously: someone gets to be an astronaut. Why not you?


Rainy day? Stuck at home, wondering how to entertain the kids? Simple!

Grab a packet of mini-marshmallows and a box of toothpicks, and issue the challenge: Who can build the tallest tower? The best geometric design? Whose will be strongest? Whose will be longest? And who will show the most perseverance? It’s harder than it looks!

Thanks to the kids, parents, organisers and sponsors of the 2016 Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival for these great snaps of creative minds in action…

Yummmm….anyone hungry for marshmallows?


Shukran, Sharjah!

Sharjah-socialI’m having an incredible time in the United Arab Emirates for the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, but already it’s time to pack and head home…what happened to the time?

As you can imagine, it can be quite intimidating to arrive at a festival knowing Literally Noone, but one of my favourite parts of writing for children is traveling to new places, meeting new people, attempting new challenges, speaking for and learning from new audiences…

So on Day 1, I try to remember that everyone feels just as lost as me, and I ignore the little voice that says “Hide” and instead listen to the shaky voice that says “Let’s rock!”

It works for me:-)


So thank you to all my new friends.

Thanks for the laughter, the honesty, the support and the adventures.

Thanks for yoga on the early morning beach and dinner by the late night waves.

Thanks for music and hospitality and amazing food and constant generosity.

Thanks for sharing stories and coffees and kind words and inspiration. I’ve had an absolute ball.



sharjah-300x225Hi everyone in Sharjah! I’m so looking forward to meeting you!

I’m super-keen to meet and chat with book-lovers and reading fans from across the globe at this month’s Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, held in the United Arab Emirates.

The Festival is enormous –the world’s fourth largest book fair!

To give you an idea of the scale, I’ll be presenting just five of the more than 1500 events happening over the eleven days.

I’m going out to schools, universities and presenting at the massive expo, which attracts 130 publishing houses from all over the world.

I’m so grateful to everyone at the festival for hosting me, and for organising such an important event: it’s just an amazing opportunity to inspire children (and their adults) by sharing our stories from around the world, and by showcasing characters and tales from different countries and different cultures.

I can’t wait to be a part of it!



This week, as Batman v Superman is released, another even-more-amazing cinematic experience is hitting Australia.

It’s called Capturing the Cosmos. It’s narrated by Geoffrey Rush, produced by the Melbourne Planetarium and all-sky astrophysics mob CAASTRO, and it’s AMAZING!

If you ever wanted to sit back and be gob-smacked and entertained and inspired and made-more-intelligent (I certainly felt more intelligent after watching!), then roll up to your local Planetarium and enjoy. It’s recommended for young and old and runs through all the amazing science happening in Australia as we try to understand the universe and our place in it.

But what about Superman?

A good question.

Since Aussie astronomers are tackling the big questions of the universe, I felt they might also have an opinion about Superman’s secret alien powers.

Below is the result of my chat with the fabulous astrophysicist Danail Obreschkow, who brought his imagination and creativity to the job of leveling the superhero playing field.

This article appeared first in ScienceNetwork WA…I hope you enjoy it!

Batman v Superman: who would really win?

By Cristy Burne

Son of Krypton meets bat of Gotham in cinemas this week, but is it really fair?

After all, Batman is just a guy with fancy gadgets, while Superman is faster than a speeding bullet—and he can fly.

Okay, so Batman can supposedly glide down from distant rooftops, but even with a rigid 4.5m cape (think Batman Begins), gliding has been mathematically proven to be a painful way to travel.

This clearly puts Superman at a massive—and unfair—advantage.

While the Dark Knight is powered by science, technology and billions of dollars (spoiler alert: Bruce Wayne is his—ahem—close friend), Superman is backed by alien superpowers.

The boy in blue can lift rockets and leap tall buildings in a single bound: he’s obviously tapped into something awesome.

But what is Superman’s secret?

DanailObreschkowInternational Centre for Radio Astronomy Research astrophysicist Danail Obreschkow —with tongue firmly in cheek—says the source of Superman’s power may be the most powerful energy of all, dark energy.

“[Dark energy is] the name for the unknown force that makes the universe expand,” Danail says.

Dark energy is the driver for the overall evolution of space-time, so it’s imaginable that if Superman can release dark energy all by himself, then he might be able to create his own little expanding space around him.

“He’d then be suspended in this extra space, and he could use it to propel towards stuff and away from stuff and travel as quickly as he wants…It’s imaginable,” he says, with a laugh.

If Superman really is channelling dark energy, is there any hope for Batman?

“It’d be pretty tough to fight someone who controls dark energy, I’ve got to tell you,” Danail says.

But, he says Batman could have a fighting chance against Superman if he used an antimatter device.

“An antimatter device, that would be very powerful, and, in principal, possible,” he says.

“When you bring matter and antimatter together, the two converge into very powerful radiation.”

And Superman, of course, has a soft spot for radiation (remember kryptonite?).

So who is Danail backing in the battle of the capes?

“Batman, because he is an actual human. We could all potentially become like him if we invested enough brain power into science,” he says.

Ever wonder what northern China looked like 160 million years ago?

early mammalsImagine lush jungle. Flitting insects. Massive dinosaurs. And four-legged fluff balls. The fluff balls—also called docodonts—were some of the earliest known mammals.

And at least two of them drowned.

A few years ago, farmers discovered two fossilised skeletons in the remains of an ancient lake. The animals’ tiny skeletons were stuck in slabs of rock.

The farmers delivered the fossils to a team of scientists, who used CT scans—like we use for human medicine—to work out what was inside the stone.

And…success! They uncovered two new species of fluff ball!

And…surprise! The two species lived very different lifestyles. Until this discovery, we’d assumed early mammals were all pretty much alike: too busy escaping dinosaurs to do much adapting.

These two species appear to have evolved in much the same way as modern mammals.

jurassic fluff balls 2Agilodocodon scansorius (named for its agility and climbing adaptation)
Length: around 13–14cm
Weight: anywhere from 27–40 grams (around the same as a mouse)
Ate: tree sap and gum
Most like: a long-nosed squirrel

  • Oldest known tree-climbing mammal
  • Used its long, curved claws and flexible elbows and wrists to race up trees, like squirrels and monkeys
  • Fingers and limbs were in proportions typical of modern climbing mammals
  • Used its chisel-like teeth to gnaw through tree bark and feasted on sap and gum

Docofossor brachydactylus (named for its digging adaptation and stubby fingers)
Length: around 7–9cm
Weight: less than 17 grams (around half a mouse)
Ate: insects
Most like: an African golden mole

  • Oldest known burrowing mammal
  • Used its shovel-like paws and stumpy fingers to dig
  • Had stubby, wide teeth like modern mammals that hunt underground
  • Had a wide, flat body suited to scurrying through tunnels.

*I wrote this story for CSIRO’s Scientriffic magazine, now Double Helix.

* And I’m sorry I haven’t posted in ages…I’ve been busy on some secret projects. Hopefully details can be revealed soon….




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,700 other followers

%d bloggers like this: