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….



Circus truck at QuestaconIn 2001 I joined the circus.
In 2014 I urged you to join it too.

And in 2015, I joined 150 other circus scholars in Canberra to celebrate 30 years of taking science to the streets (and the outback communities, the rural schools, the town ovals…pretty much anywhere we could unpack the truck).

As well as being a super-incredible year of facing challenges, making friends, developing skills and blowing things up, 2001 was also an invaluable opportunity to show thousands and thousands people how much fun science is, and how cool your world can become if you understand how it works.

And 2001 was just one of the circus’ 30 years.

If you want to get goosey tingles, check out this video, which played Thursday night to a packed room at the National Arboretum.

After the evening of #SQSC30 celebrations, I spent a couple of days re-exploring Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre.

This involved screaming “Oh!” and running up to hug friends from 15 years ago (!), meeting colleagues working over the world in a (wooden, handmade) kaleidoscope of science communication roles, recording animated grabs of circus experiences as part of a video archive, losing the video microphone down my shirt, meeting the next generation of Double Helix readers, investing in glow-in-the-dark tarantulas, and drinking lots of champers, and then even more coffee. Great. Times.

Here’s to the next 30 years of developing much-needed skills in science communication, and inspiring a much-needed love of our incredible world and how it works. Thanks SQSC!

And if you’ve read this far, a bonus: The story of how Graham Walker and I were (not) nearly kidnapped for Science on the Move in South Africa.

YouFly_UWA_resizedI’ll admit it. I had a major thing for Michael J. Fox. I still do.

I realised this when rewatching the Back to the Future trilogy (including the third installment, which I’d never seen because of its average preview)(but I really loved it…if you haven’t ventured Back to the Past and you enjoyed the Back to the Futures, give it a go :-)).

Luckily, I had an excuse for watching MJF for six blissful hours. Science writing!

That’s right. I was on assignment, so that’s why I had to watch.

BTTFIIdateI was working on a story about flying cars to celebrate Back To The Future day: Wednesday 21 October 2015.

The date that Marty and the Doc fly forward to in BTTF II.

Which was, (ahem), last week, actually.

I wrote the story for ScienceNetwork WA, looking at a Perth company with their own version of Doc Brown’s DeLorean. It doesn’t time travel, but it does fly. Awesome.

Here’s what you can expect for your future commute:

YouFly is capable of vertical take-off and landing, and operated with just two joysticks—one for height, the other for direction.

“You sit in the middle of a 2m diameter fan, in a nice cockpit,” says developer Kim Schlunke.

“You can’t touch the fan or reach it, and when it starts it becomes transparent, so you can look through it.”

The enclosed fan pumps air from the top to the bottom of the car, generating lift that is controlled by a flexible skirt around the car’s body.

“It’s flown with enough weight to fly a person…it flies around very stably and parks in carparks and things like that.”


Unfortunately, the YouFly has no room for McFly: it’s a one-seater.

Crushing, I know.


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