Cristy Burne

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How to Facebook Live: a checklist for dummies (and authors)

These last weeks and months have been a huge learning curve for me. With so many live author visits and writing festivals cancelled, I’ve instead had the opportunity to explore the world of online author visits, livefeed author talks and pre-recorded videos. It has been a crazy journey and I’ve learned a lot. Cristy Burne livefeed screen grab

Last night I did my first ever Facebook Live event, as part of #LitFest2444, a live festival in Port Macquarie that was revamped into an online festival. I was pretty nervous before the event, but it turned out to be loads of fun and it was great to get so many questions and comments and even emails giving positive feedback afterward (THANKYOU to everyone who came along!! xxxx)

I’m not a big Facebook fan, so getting a handle of how to use Facebook Live took loads of preparation. I’d like to share what I learned, in case it’s useful for you in your own online adventures:

So, you’re planning a Facebook Live event…

Below is the checklist I compiled and used for putting on my first Facebook Live event. I’m not a technical expert, so I recommend you go to Google to work out the finer details of how to manage these steps. However, this might be a good TO DO list for you to work through.


  • Workshops

    Check out other free #LitFest2444 sessions on their Facebook page

    Sort out your ‘set’: What do you want your viewers to see in the background? Include your books and your personality. Exclude your laundry piles and unwashed dishes.

  • Sort out your lighting: I invested in a ring light, for maximum beauty. This is because my office is basically a cave and it was an evening event (=no natural light). I also used a tripod for stability, and bluetac to get the phone to stand up straight (see if you can see my phone slowly tilt to one side in the replay…no, I’m not sinking)
  • Sort out your sound: I’m used to speaking to a live audience in a noisy space, so I was able to SPEAK LOUDLY and didn’t use a mike. Plus I was in a quiet place, so I think my sound worked okay. If you’re in a noisy space, look into using some sort of plug-in microphone.
  • Figure out what you’re going to talk about: Yep. An oldie but a goody. Don’t forget this all-important step.
  • Give your talk a compelling title: When you’re talking to your screen in a dark and lonely place, you want viewers to come flocking to your feed, so giving it a cool title can help. I went with 5 ways you can use science and technology to super-charge your creative writing. Word on the web is that using “An odd number of ways to snare viewers’ attention” is a good formula. (What do you think? Does it work?)
  • Write victory from the jaws of defeatPromote your event beforehand. #Litfest2444 set up the livefeed as a Facebook event from their Facebook page, and then we shared the event to our networks starting weeks before.
  • Promote it again: Closer to D-day, remind people that your livefeed will be happening. Maybe use your phone to film a super-short video with a bit of a teaser. (For example, this is my promo-video for this session.)
  • Work out how you want to broadcast: I chose to broadcast via my phone, mostly because this felt simpler. You can also broadcast using your computer, but it’s a bit trickier. Given it was my first time, I went with Ye Olde Principle of KISS: Keep It Simple, Stinkbug.
  • Set up a test Facebook Live feed: This is well worth it. Facebook lets you do a livefeed just to yourself (on purpose, though). Or, you can make a private group specifically for testing purposes, then invite your co-collaborators to join the group, invite them to your test event, and go live just to the people in your private group. I did these tests and it was well worth it. You can suss out your internet speed, your camera orientation, your lighting, the lag in response time, how commenting might work, etc. Plus you get to experience the truly odd feeling of talking to your screen as if it’s a living, breathing, laughing, book-loving person. Or worse, talking to a picture of yourself talking to yourself as if you’re a living, breathing, laughing…. You get the idea. Either way, it can be truly unnerving experience and it’s good to get a feel for it before you’re in front of an unknown audience.


  • Set up your viewer-experience device (I used my laptop): Having this second device allows you to see what your viewers will see. Just log in to your Facebook page and load up your event page. This is so you can see your own broadcast. You can also use your computer to share your live event once it’s started.
  • Set up your recording device (I used my phone): See above re KISS.
  • Set up your lights and your tech: Make sure you have all the extension cords and charging cords where you want them to be (AKA plugged in, so they don’t cut out halfway through)
  • Mute notifications, children, dogs, posties: This is a valuable but not always possible step. Don’t forget: disasters can also have comedy value.
  • Check your phone settings: Make sure your phone can rotate to landscape or portrait and choose which one you’ll use.


  • Turn on your lights.
  • Plug in your phone, chargers, etc
  • Log into Facebook, go to your event page, click “Write a Post”, click “Go Live” (you won’t go live when you click this, so don’t worry)
  • Type in a description of your livefeed – feel free to use emojis 🙂
  • Click START (now you will go live, so don’t pick your nose).

It is seriously that easy (and that dangerous :-)). You get about three seconds from when you hit that START button to when you’re LIVE.

And you will be live, even though it doesn’t feel like it. Like, nobody introduces you, nobody claps…but you just need to start anyway 🙂


  • Welcome people to your video.
  • Tell them what your video is going to be about and why it might be useful.
  • Tell them who you are and why you might be worth listening to.
  • Encourage people to share the livecast, to like the post or hit the smiley faces whenever they feel like it, to make comments and ask questions.
  • I like to do an Acknowledgement of Country and a call-out to our nation’s first and best storytellers.
  • Kick into your content!


Insert riveting and useful content here.


  • Summary: Sum up what you’ve said and what you hope your viewers have got out of it.
  • Call to action: Is there something you want your viewers to do? To get creative? To try a new writing technique? To enter a writing competition? To give you feedback so you can improve for next time? Now’s a good time to ask.
  • Thank viewers for joining: Seriously. I felt so grateful to the people who had stayed and watched and asked questions and played along. At this point, I felt like I’d climbed Everest and wanted to give a huge thankyou to the amazing viewers who’d climbed it with me.
  • Wait five seconds: Wait a bit before you end your feed, to make up for any lag. Don’t spend this five seconds drinking wine or staring into space.
  • Hit the button: Somewhere on the app there’s a button that ends your livefeed. I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s obvious and you’ll find it easily, and I’m guessing you’ll be mightily relieved to hit it. I was 🙂


  • Click “Share”: Share your livefeed video so it will be publicly available for replay viewers.
  • Choose life: You can go into your Videos tab and choose a still from the video that doesn’t show you with zombie eyes or that weird grimace thing you do when you’re talking.
  • Respond to comments: Hopefully you’ll have lots of comments and questions during your livefeed, but you may not have time to answer them all. After my live event had ended, I went back through the comments so I could respond to people personally. It was a good way to wind down, and also a way to thank viewers for tuning in.

So that’s it…that’s the checklist I used for my first-ever Facebook Live author event. I’m 100% certain it’s not a definitive list, and there are many things I probably did wrong. But, it took me ages to pull it all together and I hope that by sharing it I can maybe save you a bit of time (and give you a bit of confidence to do your own Facebook Live events!).

If you have any other hot tips for doing a great Facebook Live session, please pop them in the comments.

I still have SO MUCH TO LEARN and I’d love to keep improving by skills in this brave new world of online engagement.

Thank you!!! And good luck!

PS: You can see the finished product here.

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Get online! Tips, tricks, writing competitions and inspiration

If you’re a keen writer (or  know a keen writer), it’s pretty much your wildest-dreams, writerly-smorgasbord on the internet right now. There’s just so much to learn, do, practice and be inspired by, and the coming weeks are no exception.

If you’re keen to hang out online, have a question you’d love answered, want inspiration for your own writing journey, or just want to see inside my house, now is your chance!

Wednesday May 13 4.30pm WST


Perfect for young writers who want to write strong short stories

Grab your free tickets here. Link will be sent out 2 hours prior to the event.

[Do you live in South Perth and have a story you just LOVE? Why not enter the South Perth Young Writers Awards. Entries close 1 June]

Cristy Burne Literature Champion

Monday May 18  5-6pm WST

Using Science to Inspire Creative Writing

Write victory from the jaws of defeat


As part of the incredible-but-cancelled-due-to-COVID19 Literary Festival Extravaganza that is #LitFest2444, check out my workshop:

Science, creativity, and other ways to write victory from the jaws of defeat.

Go to the #LitFest2444 Facebook event page for more information.

[And guess what? I’m not the only artist #LitFest2444 are making available online… These workshops are perfect for teen writers and creators]

Connecting Through Creativity

Scribblers Festival: Connecting Through Creativity entries due 26 June


Want to win $500 in prizes? Scribblers Festival is challenging you to get creative with visual storytelling to explore the topic of CONNECTIVITY during the global COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

I’ll be there to inspire you and guide you through the process, along with three other amazing creative mentors, James Foley, Remy Lai and Beci Orpin.

Do you have a question on creativity, connectivity (or anything else that starts with ‘c’)(what’s that? you have a question that starts with a different letter?… …. … Well, okay, send that too!) that you’d love us to answer? Send it through!

Armadale Young Writers Awards

Armadale Young Writer’s Awards: entries due 30 June 2020


Do you live in or around Armadale? Enter the Armadale Young Writer’s Awards. This creative writing competition is open to students in Years 3 to 12 who reside or attend school in the City of Armadale.

I was lucky enough to meet last year’s winners and read their work…it was AWESOME! I’d love to work with you on your entry this year.

To help you out, I’ll be making a couple of videos to answer your questions and give you a boost!

How many questions can you send? As many as you can think of! Go for it! Email your questions now!


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Shout-out to Australia’s first astronomers on International Astronomy Day

On this International Astronomy Day, let’s have a shout-out for our First Peoples, and all those incredible Aboriginal astronomers who passed down knowledge over tens of thousands of years.

Early Aboriginal astronomers could identify thousands of stars by name. They used this knowledge of the sky to predict changing seasons, tides, and navigate country. Several Aboriginal cultures recorded comets and meteors, or had accurate theories about solar and lunar eclipses. Some researchers believe their astronomical observations might pre-date Egypt’s pyramids and England’s Stonehenge.

“There’s lots of depth and complexity in Aboriginal cultures, lots of great intellectual achievements,” says CSIRO astrophysicist Ray Norris, who studies Aboriginal astronomy. “We have a lot to learn from the Aboriginal people.”

“Many of these stories have been lost,” he says, “but let’s try and make sure we record what there is.”

Double Helix Indigenous astronomy

The Emu in the Sky

Next time you’re in the bush during autumn or winter, wait till night falls, then stare up at the twinkling stars of the Milky Way. Now look between the stars, into the dark spaces… Can you see the Emu in the Sky? It’s a massive emu-shaped patch of darkness known to Aboriginal people all across Australia.

“It’s the most amazing sight,” says Ray. “It’s enormous, and completely different from the European constellations.”

We now know the Emu in the Sky exists because of molecule clouds floating through the galaxy, blocking the star light. “Those dark spaces are where stars are being born,” says Ray.

The Wurdi Youang stones

The Wathaurung people built the Wurdi Youang stone ring in what is now Victoria, perhaps thousands of years ago. They carefully arranged around 100 stones into a 50-metre-long egg shape, oriented almost exactly East-West. The stones mark the position on the horizon where the Sun sets on equinoxes and solstices.

Equinox or solstice? Twice a year, the Earth’s equator aligns with the centre of the Sun, making the day is exactly as long as the night. Modern astronomers call these two days the equinoxes. The solstices are the longest and shortest days of the year.

Orion and the 7 Sisters

Can you find Orion, the hunter, in the sky? Aboriginal stories often link the constellation of Orion with a male hunter or fisherman, just like European stories.

What about Pleiades’ seven sisters? In most Aboriginal cultures, the stars of Pleiades are female, just like European stories. And Aboriginal and European stories both mention seven sisters, which is strange. You might see four, six, or even eight sister stars, but never seven.

“You get these same stories, right throughout the world,” says Ray. “Why should Orion be male and the Seven Sisters be female? The stories all say there are seven sisters, and there aren’t.”

So why are these stories so similar? Ray believes the answer may be that the stories were first told more than 100,000 years ago, before the first humans left Africa.

Want more Aboriginal astronomy?

This story originally appeared in CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine, (c) CSIRO. For more on Aboriginal astronomy check out

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Takeshita Demons celebrate 10 years…and Hashimoto Monsters are go!

Are you all by yourself right now? Then it’s time to party!!!

It’s party time…all by ourselves!

Let’s celebrate my TEN-YEAR BOOK BIRTHDAY!!!!

It has been ten years since the Takeshita Demons series — my debut books! — were published. They met with (what I think is) astounding success, winning a prize, featuring on the BBC’s Blue Peter, being selected for a UK-wide BookTrust promotion, published into five countries and translated into two other languages.

To celebrate, I’m re-releasing all three books and adding a bonus fourth book (set underwater in the realm of the Dragon King). These books are best for kids aged 8 to 12 who like adventure and ghost stories/Goosebumps. They’re also great for anyone who loves Japan and Japanese mythology.

A new name, a new look

3Dcovers Hashimoto Monsters

Hashimoto Monsters

After ten years, I felt the text needed refreshing and I also wanted to try for an easier-to-pronounce title (Seriously, noone knows how to say Takeshita :-)]

So I gave the text a spritz and I gave Miku a new surname: Hashimoto. (Takeshita means “under the bamboo” while Hashimoto means “under the bridge”.)

The result? Hashimoto Monsters.

I hope a whole new generation of readers will enjoy being part of Miku’s adventures.

For now I’m just making these books available digitally, which means you can grab a copy from any online bookstore, including Amazon, Amazon Australia and Smashwords.

And since we’re all going through tough times right now, I’m making the first book FREE and heavily discounting the others HERE for a limited time.

Teaching notes and activities

Want some teaching notes and activities to go with the books? Head HERE.


Reviews for the series

“A gripping, superbly written debut novel” – Writeaway

“Two young girls being brave and clever without a hint of pink or glitter on the cover? Hooray!” – The Age

“Perfect for those that like their monsters gross rather than gory” – Inis Magazine, Ireland

A thrilling contemporary adventure wittily shot through with the powerful fantasy stories of the old demons from the Japanese past.”  – Julia Eccleshare of LoveReading4Kids

“A compulsive read.” – Parents in Touch UK

“One of my favourite series for younger, confident readers.” – My Favourite Book Blog

“A trio of whirling weasel assassin spirits with Freddy Krueger–style claws ambush a Japanese-British child on an abandoned farm. Whoo-hoo!” –  Kirkus Reviews

I really liked the first 2 instalments, but I LOVE this one!..Like Spirited Away combined with a Famous Five camaraderie” – GoodReads

“This is one to give to the adventure loving nine or ten year old kid who likes being a little scared–some of the demons are more than somewhat frightening (although there’s no goryness).” – Charlotte’s Library


Want to know more about Japanese monsters?

Japanese monsters are better known as yokai (妖怪) and they’re awesome!!

There are monsters to clean your bathroom, monsters to tickle the back of your neck, monsters that go bump in the night… Yokai have featured in Japanese fairy tales, folklore and mythology for centuries. Scholars have been cataloguing yokai species in encyclopedias and databases since the 1770s.

But yokai are far from old news. They’re a hugely popular part of Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh and manga and they feature in everything from bank advertisements to sushi bars. Last month I chatted with Will Yeoman for an article on yokai for The West Australian on just this very topic.

Check out the yokai featured in Hashimoto Monsters Book 1Book 2 and Book 3.



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International ‘Ask A Question’ Day

The world is full of questions at the moment, more so than ever. Thank goodness we have science and creativity to help answer them.

Ever heard of International ‘Ask A Question’ Day? Science is all about asking questions and finding answers, and there are so many questions to choose from.

For CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine, I asked some of Australia’s top scientists about the questions they’d most like to see answered…

Fiona Wood: “Can we think ourselves whole?”

Professor Fiona Wood is Director of the Burns Service of Western Australia and has worked for 20 years as a burns surgeon and researcher. She invented spray-on skin for treating burns, was 2005 Australian of the Year, and is an Australian Living Treasure.

“There is so much information all around us but how do we know what is right, true, useful and how do we craft that knowledge into a solution?

“I have so many unknowns that keep driving me forward. Why do we scar and not regenerate tissues to the original form and function? Why does a burn injury have a lifelong impact?

“Where do I find the answers? Working across disciplines bringing many minds to solve the problem is key.

“I want to understand the role of the nervous system, the brain and all the nerves, in controlling self-organisation of tissue to drive a regenerative pattern. Ultimately – can we think ourselves whole???”

Brian Schmidt: “Is there life on other planets?”

Professor Brian P. Schmidt won a 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering that our universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. He’s an astrophysicist (and Vice Chancellor) at the Australian National University.

“I would like to find out if there is life on other planets, and if so, how many planets have life.

“Life on Earth is amazing, but trying to imagine what life might be across the Universe is even more amazing.

“Over the coming 10 to 20 years, we will, with the next generation of telescopes, be able to look at many exo-planet atmospheres, and see the tell-take signs of life, if it exists.

“Who knows what we will find?”

Mary-Anne Williams: “Will we ever understand consciousness?”

Professor Mary-Anne Williams is Director of the Innovation and Enterprise Research Laboratory (AKA the Magic Lab) at University of Technology Sydney. She’s an expert on disruptive innovation, loves to turn science fiction into reality, and is one of Robohub’s Top 25 Women in Robotics.

“There are millions of questions about consciousness that don’t have an answer.

“Imagine being a cat for a day. What would it feel like to wiggle ears on the top of your head and to have retractable claws instead of fingers?

“I wonder how our mind and body work together to create human experiences. How do they make us feel happy, sad, anxious and excited? How do they create perceptions of reality that feel so real?

“For example, pain is not real, it’s a perception created by our minds, so how does feel so hurtful? How do the neurons in our brain create our thoughts, likes, dislikes, desires and imagination? I build robots to try to find out.”

What’s your big question this International ‘Ask A Question’ Day?

Double Helix Great Unknown.JPG

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Three book deal with Hachette Australia!

WBN Upper Banner FA 1003_v3

SOMEBODY PINCH ME!!! For a while now I’ve been having this recurring dream… It’s that me and the amazing Denis Knight and the terrific team at Hachette Australia Children’s Books are making something super-fun.

Wednesday Weeks is going to be a wild ride and we can’t wait to share the journey with you.

Thanks so much to *you* for your support … and special thanks to @Danielle Binks Jacinta di Mase Management and all of you at Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – Australia West and to my writing buddies #thefauxfour

Read all the news here:

Hachette Australia thrilled to announce
new children’s middle grade series, Wednesday Weeks

Hachette Australia is thrilled to announce the acquisition of Wednesday Weeks, a funny (really, actually funny), pacy fantasy adventure series that combines real-life science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) with classic fantasy elements by authors Denis Knight and Cristy Burne.

Launching in 2021, the first book Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows features smart, brave powerhouse protagonist Wednesday Weeks, her best friend Alfie, a wisecracking skull, a power-hungry goblin king, mostly-good fairies, hot pink slugs and a race against time. What’s not to love?

Hachette Australia Head of Children’s and YA Jeanmarie Morosin said, ‘Wednesday Weeks is the perfect mash-up of science and magic and I am beyond excited to be publishing this dynamite series. Rarely has a series so perfectly matched with my sense of humour and my desire to publish smart, funny, not-always-perfect female protagonists. I truly can’t wait to welcome young readers into the rollicking world of Wednesday Weeks.

Media release snapshot

About the book: 

In a world of magic, can science save the day?

Wednesday Weeks never wanted to be a sorcerer’s apprentice. She’d rather study science than magic. But when her cloak-wearing, staff-wielding grandpa is captured by a power-hungry goblin king, Wednesday must find a way to embrace her magical heritage and rescue him from the dreaded Tower of Shadows.

Luckily, she’s not alone.

Her best friend Alfie is a prime-number fan and robotics expert who’s all-in on Wednesday’s epic plan involving parallel universes, swords of power, and a wise-cracking talking skull.

But it’s going to take more than science, magic, and the world’s cutest robot to take down this bad guy. Because the goblin king is playing for the ultimate prize—and Wednesday and Alfie just walked into his trap…


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Love Your Pet Day: They’re not just cute, they’re good for you

DSC_9319.jpgHappy Love Your Pet Day!

Make sure you give your pet an extra cuddle today. That’s because they’re not just cute, they’re also good for you.

Research shows spending just ten minutes a day patting a dog can make you feel more relaxed and happy.

“Having pets, and being around animals, can make you less depressed, less anxious, and less stressed,” says anthrozoologist Dr Pauleen Bennet.

Researchers have also found people with pets tend to have higher self-esteem and better physical fitness. Plus pet owners are seen as more friendly, approachable and attractive (just sayin’).

Don’t like cats or dogs? Pauleen says humans are hardwired to be social, so living with any type of pet can improve your mood. “Guinea pigs, rabbits, snakes… But don’t rush out and get a pet. Think about what you’re doing, get a pet that fits your lifestyle.”

Inside dog, outside dogFergus reading 2018

The more time you spend with your pet, the more benefit you’ll get from it.

“What’s important is not whether you own a pet, but your relationship with it,” Pauleen says.

“If you have a dog and put in the yard and never spend time with it, or you have a cat and it’s out wandering the neighbourhood, you don’t get the same benefits.”

Pauleen’s research shows that people who think their dog is cute have a better relationship with that dog.

Teacher’s pet

Want to excel at school?

“School-based studies show kids concentrate better and perform better if they have a dog around them,” Pauleen says. “Things like following instructions, remembering things, solving problems…kids were better at doing it when there was a dog in the room.”

Don’t forget: pets need love too.

“You have to think about the welfare of the animal as well as the welfare of the people,” Pauline says. “Class pets are really good, but someone has to look after them after hours and on holidays.”

It’s a cave dog’s life

Why do we respond so well to pets? It could be evolution.

“This is all speculative, but there’s good reason to believe that early people who lived with dogs survived better,” Pauleen says.

“Dogs could warn when other tribes approached, they helped hunt and track things to eat, and they cleaned up rubbish, so there was less disease.”

What’s anthrozoology?

  • Anthro: people
  • Zoo: animals

Pauleen is an anthrozoologist. “I have the best job on earth,” she says.

If you like the sound of anthrozoology, Pauleen suggests you get started right away: “Read everything you can about animals and people, do volunteer work with animals, and work really, really hard. Make sure you work at something you love.”

I originally penned this article for CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine. Hope you enjoyed it 🙂 And happy Love Your Pet Day!



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 A partridge in a where-tree? Christmas trivia and seasonal science

Christmas Tree Nebula 800px-NGC_2264_by_ESO.jpg

Can you see the upside-down Christmas tree with its blue baubles? Thanks to the European Southern Observatory (ESO) for this image of the Christmas Tree nebula.

Q: How does Good King Wenceslas like his pizza?

A: Deep pan, crisp and even.


I love Christmas! I love holidays, I love summer, I love family time, I love presents, I love that feeling of freedom and free time. And I love Christmas trivia and Christmas facts…

I hope you do too 🙂

Did you know? The Twelve Days Christmas Price Index

  • When you add up all the gifts given in the Twelve Days of Christmas (a partridge in a pear tree on day 1, a partridge and two turtle doves on day 2, etc), you receive a total of 364 presents over the twelve days: one for each day of the year, except Christmas.
  • The Christmas Price Index is a yearly measure of the cost of buying one set of each of the presents in The Twelve Days of Christmas: a partridge in a pear tree, and two turtle doves, and three French hens…and all the rest of it.
  • When the Christmas Price Index was first calculated in 1984, the cost of Christmas was $12623.10, assuming you just hire the maids a milking, lords a leaping, ladies dancing, pipers piping and drummers drumming for a single day.

 A partridge in a where-tree?

The lyrics of The Twelve Days Of Christmas are thought to have changed over hundreds of years, resulting in several confusions, including the facts that:

  • The four calling birds were probably four colly birds, meaning birds as black as coal.
  • There is no such thing as a French hen.
  • Partridges are a type of pheasant, related to the peacock. They build their nests on the ground and so are probably unlikely to be found in pear trees.

Ho, Ho, Holmium

Ho is the chemical symbol for Holmium, a highly magnetic soft, silver metal named for the Swedish city of Stockholm.

Twinkle, twinkle

The Christmas Tree Cluster is a group of blue stars, arranged in the shape of a Christmas tree. The cluster is 2500 light years away, which means the twinkles you’ll see tonight shone from these stars 2500 years ago.

They shine blue because they’re larger, hotter and younger than our Sun.

Gold, myrrh and frankincense

Myrrh and frankincense are chunks of stinky dried tree goop, called resin. These resins were once as valuable as gold. They are still used today to make perfumes and incense.

The resin is harvested by slashing through the bark of a suitable plant. This makes the plant bleed sappy tears, which harden into beads on the side of the tree.

Myrrh comes from spiny bushes and is a yellowy-red colour. It starts out waxy before turning hard. Myrrh was also used to embalm Egyptian mummies.

Frankincense comes from scraggly trees and starts out milky white before hardening to a translucent yellow.

Merry Christmas!!



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Flossed in translation

Feeling fuzzy? Go brush! That sweater-mouth feeling is plaque, a layer of soft white gunk coating your teeth.

And don’t forget floss, especially since today is Flossing Day. (Happy Flossing Day everyone!) And guess what? You can even use the same piece of floss as last time.

Don’t believe me? Ask your dentist. I did, for CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine….

DOuble Helix dentisry.JPGFlossed in translation

If you look at unbrushed teeth using a microscope, you’ll see hungry colonies of bacteria munching sugary leftovers from between your teeth. These bacteria release acids that dissolve the protective enamel on the outside of your teeth, and cause cavities.

“Brushing your teeth removes these bacteria, so they can’t sit on the surface of your tooth for too long,” explains dentist Dr Peter Klages. “But if you’re snacking throughout the day, the bacteria have a constant supply of sugar to work with, so you’re increasing your decay rate.”

Peter says it’s fine to brush right after a sugary snack, like dried fruit or lollies, but wait half an hour before brushing after an acidic drink, like juice or soda. This gives your saliva a chance to neutralise the acids and protect your enamel.

And what about re-using floss? Well, you reuse your toothbrush all the time, so…

“There’s no harm in reusing floss, provided it’s still intact enough to clean between your teeth,” says dentist Dr Peter Klages. “Flossing once a day maintains healthy gums, and helps avoid decay where the brush can’t reach.”

Just add water

Lost in the jungle without a toothbrush? No excuse.

“It doesn’t matter what you use, as long as you’re cleaning thoroughly,” says Peter. “Some cultures use cloth, others use a stick that has been feathered at the end.”

It’s best to brush twice a day: after breakfast and before bed. Peter also recommends drinking water after a meal, to wash away food particles and acid.

Mouth party

Dark, warm, moist and stuffed with food, your mouth is home to more than 400 species of bacteria, but not all of them cause decay. The main culprit is Streptococcus mutans, a bacterium that combines with proteins in your saliva to grow into plaque.

The new drill

Has your dentist spotted signs of early decay? A University of Sydney study suggests early decay can actually be reversed, with up to 50 per cent of fillings avoided if you:

  1. Ask your dentist to coat the trouble spot with fluoride varnish
  2. Clean the spot super-well every time you brush
  3. Cut back on sugary snacks and drinks
  4. Visit your dentist regularly

Peter says a two-minute brush is the minimum: “Brushing faster isn’t going to clean any better…You have to take time to get into those all the nooks and crannies, to clean really well.”




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How do RFID microchips work?

Happy International Veterinary Medicine Day! My best friend is a vet, and she spends her days looking after our pets. One of the things she does is inject microchips, to help us identify and find lost pets.

In Australia today, most dogs and cats carry a tiny microchip – about the size of a grain of rice – under the skin between their shoulder blades. Your pet can’t feel its chip, but this mini device helps many furry friends to find their way home.

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Lost and found: family pet

Vets like my friend use a special needle to inject a microchip under your pet’s skin. This is quick and only stings for a second, much like a vaccination. Once injected, the chip stays with your pet for life.

Each chip is coded with a 15-digit identification (ID) number. This number is listed in a database, matched with your pet’s name, address and owner details.

Your pet’s microchip is passive, which means for the most part, it does nothing.

“Basically it’s a glass tube with a copper coil inside it. It has no battery or anything like that,” says Bruce Knight, of Micro Products Australia.

But if you lose your pet, or find a lost pet, a vet can scan its microchip to reveal its ID number.

“Just like scanning groceries at the supermarket,” says Bruce.

Radio frequency identification: Power up!

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To communicate your pet’s ID number, the chip needs a source of energy. Providing this energy is the job of a microchip scanner.

Microchip scanners broadcast a low frequency radio wave of 135 kHz, or 135,000 vibrations per second. This wave is invisible, a very slow version of the same radio waves you tune into when you listen to music on the radio.

“All pet microchips must operate on that frequency,” says Bruce. “No matter where you go in the world, they will have a scanner that can read your microchip.”

When this low frequency radio wave bumps into your pet’s microchip, it sends a tiny electrical current whirling around the chip’s copper coil. Like a key winds a clock, the current provides just enough energy to power the microchip.

Once powered, the microchip can emit its own unique radio wave. The scanner captures this radio wave and decodes it, displaying your pet’s ID on its screen. The scanner must be held close to the microchip, because the radio wave has so little energy.

This use of radio waves to send coded information through the air is called radio frequency identification (RFID).

Did you know? Some microchips include a thermometer: when you scan the chip, it sends back your pet’s temperature as well as their ID.

From libraries to polar bears

RFID chips are everywhere: they’re used by libraries to manage books, shops to prevent shoplifting, and farmers to track the farm their animals grew up on, and the vaccinations they’ve had. Researchers use RFID chips to track rhinos in Namibia and polar bears in the Arctic.

You’ll also find RFID used in automatic toll booths, car immobilisers, electronic passports, smart travel cards and contactless card payments.

I originally wrote this article for CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine. Happy International Veterinary Medicine Day!