Cristy Burne

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“Remarkable and timely” “funny and informative”: reviews that make me smile

It’s only a week till I blast off with Russ the Bus into Newcastle and Gosford.
Wooo hoo! I can’t wait!

I’m really looking forward to meeting hundreds of kids and teachers and having a fantabulous time!

It’s also only five weeks till Christmas (!!!???!!!)

If you’re wondering how to give the gift that keeps on giving, give a book to a child you love.

And if you need some book suggestions, I humbly (not so humbly? :-)) present two recent reviews, below. (Want more book recommendations for kids? Check out this amazing event at the State Library of WA.)

Writers spend a lot of time alone in our own heads. We’re always wondering if what we’re writing will ever be read, or liked, or used to help inspire readers to live bigger, braver, more informed lives.

So THANK YOU to all of you who take the time to review our work and help get our stories and ideas into the hands of the young people we write them for.


And now, on with the book reviews… 🙂

Magpies review.JPGZeroes & Ones (2018)
In Magpies magazine

Despite its catchy title and attractive cover featuring a squat, colourful, friendly robot, it is the subtitle The geeks, heroes and hackers who changed history that really best sum up this remarkable and timely book.

Within its five detailed chapters, information is fed to the reader in a series of compact, information-rich fact boxes, with the author’s amusing, hip writing style being sure to resonate with young, switched-on readers.

She reminds them that this is their future and encourages and challenges them to decide how they are going to carry on the digital revolution which they will inherit.

It introduces and outlines the motivations of all the major players to date (e.g. Turing, Jobs, Assange, Zuckerberg, etc.) but more importantly explains how and why the inventions and computer advances which have developed in the last few decades have grown into the overarching behemoth of technology which we all share today.

The unusual combination of colours (black writing of difference sizes and fonts presented on alternating white and yellow background) is striking, and the few illustrations of photographs which accompany the text serve mainly to break up the information and occasionally to simply clarify.

Readership? As well as the obvious group—upper primary and lower secondary readers of both sexes—I would recommend this captivating book to everyone who has held a digital device of any kind in the past twenty years!

This intriguingly delightful book is utterly absorbing—and every so slightly scary!

Highly recommended.

Russ Merrin

Kids Reading Guide review

Off The Track (2018)
In Kids Book Review

Harry thinks he’s in for the worst weekend ever when he has to go hiking and camping. No phone to play with?!

Little does he know of the fun, scary, crazy adventure that awaits!

This is a funny and informative story about getting away from it all.

Kids Book Review 


Thank you!!!! And wish me luck with Russ the Bus!


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One year anniversary of wreck discovery

SS Macumba_2_Credit Marine National Facility.jpg

Sonar pulses were used to map the 40-metre-deep wreck, showing its broken bow. Photo: CSIRO Marine National Facility

Last October, I was lucky enough to cover the thrilling discovery of a lost wreck. One year on, let’s revisit the events of that time…

On August 6, 1943, two Japanese airplanes attacked the SS Macumba, a 2500-tonne merchant ship in waters north of Arnhem Land.

The ship’s engine room was hit, three crewmen were killed, and the boat sank, disappearing into the ocean.

For seventy-four years, despite many searches, its final resting place was a mystery.

Then, in the dead of night on October 4 last year, the mystery was solved.

Wreck mystery solved

On October 3 2017, the crew onboard the CSIRO research boat Investigator was given just twelve hours to find the Macumba. The vessel was passing by the spot where the Macumba had last been seen, and though many previous searches had uncovered nothing, they wanted to give it another try…

The crew used sonar pulses to search the seafloor in a grid pattern. By studying how the pulses bounced back to the top, the team could work out what might be on the ocean’s bottom.

After ten hours of searching, they spotted some “unusual” features. The ship turned for another look.


Shark about to attack dropcam_Credit CSIRO.png

A specialised drop camera was used to photograph the wreck—and this resident reef shark.  Photo: CSIRO Marine National Facility

Midnight success


“It was very early in the morning, about 1 am, so everyone was very tired,” says Hugh Barker, voyage manager onboard Investigator. “As soon as [the wreck] appeared on our screens, everyone was celebrating. It was quite special to be the first to see the Macumba in 74 years.”

The team used sonar to map the wreck, which was 40 metres down. They also dropped a camera to photograph it. They discovered the wreck was teeming with life, including “an inquisitive reef shark that seemed to be guarding the site,” Mr Barker says.

The wreck will now be protected as a historic shipwreck.

Frozen in time

Shipwrecks are like time capsules, says Dr Ross Anderson, Curator of Maritime Archaeology at the Western Australian Museum.

“Everything on a shipwreck is frozen in an exact moment of time,” he says. “Shipwrecks, like all archaeological sites and heritage places, are tangible links to our past.”

Dr Anderson’s favourite wrecks are the HMAS Pandora, which ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef in 1791, and the Batavia, Australia’s second earliest shipwreck, which was wrecked off Western Australia in 1629.

Items discovered on both wrecks help us understand how people lived hundreds of years ago.

And there’s still treasure to be found. “There are still many ships lost that were carrying bullion [like precious metals and coins] and other high value cargoes,” he says.

CSIRO research vessel Investigator_Credit CSIRO.jpg

CSIRO’s research vessel Investigator solved the 74-year-old mystery last year. Photo: CSIRO

Searching for treasure

Finding a wreck can be low-tech or high-tech. The divers who re-discovered the Batavia were shown where to look by a crayfisherman who’d spotted the curve of a giant anchor deep in the water.

The Pandora was re-discovered using a magnetometer, which measures changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. In this way, metal objects such as anchors and cannons often help us find lost wrecks, Dr Anderson says.

Other times, colour can point the way. If you’re keen on discovering sunken treasure, keep your eyes peeled for the green of tarnished copper, or the black of crusted silver.

This article first appeared in Crinkling News.


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My top five activities for book and science lovers

Fremantle Press recently featured my top five activities for teachers to use with their book and science lovers in the classroom.

In case you missed it…here it is again!

Activities for Science Week and Book Week.JPG

1. Design your red planet submarine
We’ve just discovered a giant underground lake on Mars! Now we need to find out what’s in it. Imagine you’re in charge of designing the Mars Submarine Explorer. Draw it and label the features that’ll help you in your adventure. Then, when you’re ready, jump in and take it for a ride … Write down what happens and let us know what you discover!

2. Forget the Floss, dance the Peacock Spider
Kick off your day with a peacock spider-inspired dance routine to get your creative juices flowing. And while you’re busting moves, marvel at the fact that these incredible arachnids were only discovered last month and they live right here in Western Australia … How lucky are we?! When you have your breath back, imagine how it felt to be the first person in the world to see these spiders in action … Write a scene where you’re that person, sneaking through the bush on the trail of a new and amazing discovery.

3. Billionaire inventor
Ten of the 20 fastest-rising billionaires in the world work with new technologies. Imagine you’re an insanely rich technology entrepreneur. Now imagine you want to spend a wad of cash on a new project. What type of technology will you choose? A robot? A spaceship? A helpful gadget? A crazy invention? Sketch out your project and write an advertisement that explains what it will do. How will you encourage us to part with our money so we can own the Next Big Thing?

4. What if rhinos roamed Australia?
Rhinos are critically endangered, so why not introduce them to Australia? I love this plan! And it’s amazing for story ideas … What if rhinos roamed with kangaroos? What if your part-time job was caring for a rhino herd? What if poachers came to hurt your rhinos? What if we could have pet rhinos? Or use rhinos instead of lawnmowers? Brainstorm some ideas for what might happen in your story.

5. Create an emergency whistle
Hiking in the bush is a fantastic way to learn more about the world around you. There are insects and flowers and birds and trees, and there’s also survival, if things go wrong. When you read my latest book, Off the Track, you’ll learn the best way to stay safe in the bush is to be prepared. You can also learn a sweet trick that just might save your life. Spoiler alert: the trick is how to make a super-annoying whistle from an ordinary piece of paper. And remember, it’s not just super-annoying, it’s also educational! Yay, the science of sound!

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Zeroes and Ones advance copy!

Zeroes and Ones-Cristy Burne.JPGI’m way too excited to let you know I HAVE MY ADVANCE COPY OF ZEROES AND ONES!!!

This is my first book with Brio Books.

I love the gorgeous books they make, and I was quietly hoping they would make my book look and feel the way they make Adam Spencer’s books look and feel (which is amazing!).


It’s shiny!

It’s pretty!

It’s a whopping 237 pages and running your fingertips across the raised font on its cover feels Just So Lovely!

It’s dedicated to the innovators of tomorrow.

When I imagined this book, I wanted it to be something kids could be inspired by. I wanted it to contain real-life stories of hope and failure and dedication and triumph. And I hoped it would be a book parents and children and teachers could read to help think about where we fit in this world of STEM* and STEAM** and social media and tablets and apps and all the other things that demand our attention.

I wanted this to be a book that kids could read with a view to creating technology, not just consuming it.

And well, it’s here now. I tried my best…and I hope Zeroes and Ones has achieved all of these things and more. Also, I hope it’s quirky and funny and OMG-is-that-really-true interesting.

Pre-order now!

If you know a mini innovator who loves computers and coding, wacky facts and hard-to-believe stories, you can pre-order your own highly strokable copy of Zeroes and Ones today, from Booktopia, or Boffins, or QBD, or ask at your fabulous local bookstore and they’ll order it in. THANK YOU! It’s recommended for kids in upper primary and beyond.

And I hope you enjoy your fast and fabulous non-digital journey through computing and time! What happens next is up to you…


And acronyms decoded:

* STEM = science, technology, engineering and maths

** STEAM = science, technology, engineering, arts and maths



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Lost your phone charger? Why not wear it?


Dr Shayan Seyedin with some fibres of MXene

I lost my phone charger, again.

I was alone in the house, running from room to room helplessly picking up bits of lost laundry and shifting bits of important-but-also-lost paper.

And I was sweating. Badly. Because I neeeeeded my phone.

And then I had this idea:

What if you could wear your phone charger, like, as part of your shirt or something? This idea is gold. A killer. Pure genius. Wearable electronics chargers. All it needs is for someone to invent it.

Lucky for me, it’s already being done. Unlucky for me, it’s a fair wait away yet.

So, while I run around the house searching for my charger, why not check out this article (below) that I wrote for Crinkling News.

It’s about dissecting blow dryers, sheets of atoms, and wearable chargers. How cool would that be!?!?!

Blow dryers, persistence and wearable electronics

When Dr Shayan Seyedin was a kid, he liked taking things apart and putting them back together, but things didn’t always work out how he intended.

“I bought a blow dryer for my hair, but it wasn’t fast enough for me,” he says. “So I changed the low-power DC motor to an AC motor…but then it was blowing too much air, so it wasn’t hot enough.”

He decided to upgrade the heating element. “That wasn’t a great idea, it overheated and each time the whole dryer would turn off.” So he made more changes. By the time he’d finished, his hairdryer was so powerful it would interfere with TV reception. “My dad used to shout ‘turn that vacuum cleaner off,’” he grins.

The lessons learned from trying and failing as a kid are important now in his research, Dr Seyedin says. “It’s all about constantly improving,” he says.

Today, that’s exactly what he does: Dr Seyedin is a researcher at Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials.

MXenes, graphene and your pencil

Two-dimensional materials are the thinnest materials known.

  • MXene (pronounced “max-een”) was discovered in 2011. It’s made from several layers of carbon and titanium atoms, all joined together into sheets.
  • Graphene was discovered in 2004. It’s similar to MXene, but made from a single layer of pure carbon atoms. It’s super-light, great at conducting electricity and 100 times stronger than steel. However, graphene fibres aren’t as good as MXene at storing energy.
  • You can see graphene when you use a pencil: the mark your pencil makes as it slides across the page is made from many thousands of layers of graphene. When this much graphene is in one place, we call it graphite.

Stand back, old-fashioned batteries

You can see a sheet of paper, but you can’t see a sheet of MXene. It’s tens of thousands of times thinner than a full stop.

But if you cram thousands of MXene sheets into a tub of clear liquid, you might see a dark green shimmer. And if you force these thousands of sheets through a space as small as the eye of a needle, you’ll see something truly incredible come out the other side: a flexible fibre.

Why would you bother? Because MXene is terrific at conducting electricity and storing energy. Stand back, old-fashioned batteries. Make way for wearable, chargeable electronics.

Taking charge

The outfit you’re wearing right now is probably woven using thousands of ordinary fibres. But who wants ordinary? “I thought that if we made fibres out of MXene, we could make fibres with energy-storing properties,” says Dr Seyedin.

However, MXene is tricky to spin into fibres. The individual sheets just slide apart, like piled-up sheets of paper.

After three years of trying, Dr Seyedin solved this problem. He discovered that by forcing thousands of MXene sheets through a small space, you can join the sheets together. Like crumpling sheets of paper into a ball, you end up with a solid, three-dimensional material.

If you keep pushing MXene through the space, it crumples into long, thin MXene fibres, a bit like making spaghetti.

171165-shayan-seyedin-031smMXing out

Dr Seyedin found that MXene fibres can trap lots of charge in the many tiny spaces created by crumpling the thousands of layers. When you use the fibre to power something, these trapped charges flow out of the fibre and into your device. Recharging the fibre is the same as recharging any other battery.

Wearable future

Using just three fibres, each around a few centimetres long, Dr Shayan Seyedin can power an LED light for fifteen minutes. “These fibres are tiny, we’re talking about one single fibre on a shirt, not the whole shirt,” he says. He’s already imagining what can be done with an entire shirt.

“The next stage will be transforming the small fibres into actual wearable articles of clothing…pants pockets, wristbands or shirt patches that are capable of storing energy and charging devices.”

And maybe, just maybe, we can do away with our phone chargers…forever!!!!




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Young writers: Enter the 2018 Bragg Science Writing Prize

canon-sydney.jpegLots of people want to know how to get started in making a career as a writer.

One of the first steps is making your name as a writer, and for young writers, that means entering competitions.

Write, enter, repeat

I entered lots of writing competitions as a kid. I found they were great for giving me a deadline (stick) and the chance at prizes (carrot), and by the time I heard the results, I’d usually forgotten I’d even entered and I was busy with the Next Thing. I entered a lot. And I got nowhere, a lot. (Great for learning resilience and perserverance!)

My first big win in a writing competition wasn’t for creative writing, it was for writing non-fiction: an essay or piece of persuasive writing, if you speak Naplan.

The competition was the Canon Young Writer’s Of The Year award. The prize was a trip to Sydney, all expenses paid (including a stay the Ritz Carlton!). We even got to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe. I was hooked! And I’m still writing today 🙂

theme-768x320.pngTechnology & Tomorrow

If you’re in Year 7 to 10 and you’re wanting to dip your own toe into the writing prize scene, I totally recommend the UNSW Bragg Student Prize.

The Bragg Prize is named in honour of the winners of Australia’s first Nobel Prize: father and son team William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg. Entries are open from 30 April to 28 August 2018.

This year’s theme is ‘Technology & Tomorrow’.

Advice from last year’s winners

Advice from previous winners of the Bragg Student Writing Prize is to give it a go.

“Even if you don’t get a place, you’ll have learnt something worth knowing,” says Ebony Wallin, who was 14 when she won runner-up in last year’s prize. “It’s a lot easier than you’d think.”

Sam Jones was 12 when he won the prize last year. “You’ll be surprised how much adults will help you when they find out you’re a kid and you’re researching a topic they’re interested and passionate about,” he says.

So what are you waiting for? Find out how to enter and give it a go!

Sam with ugly pineapple.jpg

Sam Jones with an ‘ugly’ pineapple that will be dumped along with up to 60% of Australia’s fruit and vegetable crops.

An interview with last year’s winners

Sam Jones was celebrating the end of a busy school term when his science teacher emailed, encouraging him to enter the UNSW Bragg Student Prize for Science Writing.

“My first thought was ‘I don’t think I’ll be doing that!’” says Sam, 12, of Queensland.

But after watching the ABC’s War on Waste, and learning how much food is wasted every year, Sam changed his mind.

“I wrote about the embarrassing and alarming amount of fruits and vegetables grown in Australia that never make it to the supermarket shelves because they’re not perfect enough for fussy consumers,” Sam says.

On October 12, Sam discovered he’d won the national competition. “I don’t think I’d felt as happy as that before, because I’d basically worked the entire June-July holidays on this project.”

Give ugly a go

throw away banana.jpg

Up to 60 per cent of Australia’s fruit and vegetable crops are thrown away for being ‘ugly’.

Sam says he felt angry after learning that up to 60% of Australia’s fruit and vegetable crops end up wasted. “It was the first time I’d really been outraged about something that I had the power to change in my home,” he says.

Sam took charge of his home’s recycling, started composting, and researched ways that waste was being reduced in his local area. He used his research to write his essay, arguing it’s what’s inside that counts. “‘Ugly’ produce can be just as nutritious and delicious as perfect produce,” he says.

“I used to be that kid who didn’t eat my banana in my lunchbox because it had a black spot on it,” Sam admits. “This research has really opened up my eyes… It’s not sustainable to keep using precious resources to grow food that is wasted.”

Sam now runs his own Instagram account, Give Ugly A Go.


Ebony Wallin’s essay described how a common caterpillar can eat plastic bags, offering hope for the war on plastic waste.

The very helpful caterpillar

WA’s Ebony Wallin, 14, was a runner-up with her essay describing the surprising discovery that a common caterpillar can eat plastic bags.

“If scientists can replicate their ability, it could bring us a step closer to solving the problem of plastic waste,” Ebony explains.

Year 9 Carol Ge of the ACT was also a runner-up, with her essay about the Great Barrier Reef.

All three writers won a trip to Sydney in November to collect their prizes.

This interview first appeared in Crinkling News.



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How do fireworks work?

fireworksFirecrackers explode into the night, and the sky fills with starbursts.

Want to explain the science of fireworks and sparklers?


By Cristy Burne


Don’t you just love the big bangs, wild explosions and bursting colours of a firework display?

But how does a firework work?
Let’s find out.

Simple fireworks are shaped like hollow balls and filled with fuel to make them explode. More tricky fireworks have different fuels hidden between different layers. Only one layer opens at a time, kind of like “Pass the Parcel.”

Chemical starbursts
Each firework is packed with tiny stars—little packages about the size of a marble that burn to make a bright starburst in the sky. There can be hundreds of stars in just one firework.

Inside each star are chemicals called explosives, which help the star to explode, and chemicals called metal salts, which make the star a bright colour.

Burn, baby, burn
When each star explodes, the heat of the explosion makes the metal salts burn. Different types of metal salt burn with a different coloured light. Iron salts produce gold-coloured starbursts, and aluminium salts give off bright white starbursts. Ordinary table salt contains a metal called sodium, which produces bright orange starbursts when it burns.

Why do metals give off light when they get hot?
When you heat something, you give it extra energy. This energy is heat energy. Metals can change heat energy into light energy by giving off coloured light.

What about sparklers?
Sparklers are just like other fireworks. They burn iron powder to get the bright golden light. Sparklers burn slowly because they don’t have a lot of fuel. Firecrackers explode because so much furl burns all at once!

Did you know?
Fireworks contain titanium, the same stuff that some spacecraft are made out of. Titanium is included to give the big BANG sound of fireworks. When titanium is ground up like a powder, it burns really quickly, giving a huge ka-BOOM!!!

firework science.gifUp, up and away
Setting up for a big fireworks display is a huge job. Each firecracker must be loaded into a metal or plastic tube, called a mortar, which is like a small cannon. Inside the mortar, at the bottom, is an explosive powder. When you light the firecracker, the powder explodes and pushes the firework out of the mortar, blasting it into the sky.

While the firework is shooting up into the air, its fuse is still burning. The fuse is long and narrow, like a piece of string, and it burns right into the heart of the firecracker. As the cracker soars higher into the air, the fuse burns shorter, and gets closer to the fuel at the centre of the firework. Just before the cracker has reached its highest point, BANG – the fuse reaches the fuel and the firework explodes in mid-air.

This article first appeared in CSIRO’s Scientriffic magazine.
Thanks to for the terrific fireworks gif