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Attention, young reinventor! Another competition to enter

It’s that time again…time to put your thinking cap on and enter the 2018 Young Reinventor of the Year competition! It’s free to enter! There are great prizes! And there’s loads of time to register, plan and get started with cool classroom ideas or at-home projects. Entries are due 22 October 2018.

Some see waste, others see opportunity.

Re-inventing rubbish is the aim of the annual Young Re-inventor of the Year competition, held in WA to celebrate National Recycling Week (13–19 November).

Want to know which inventions came out on top in 2017? Scroll down!
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Young reinventors of the year

Last year, more than 350 young West Australians jumped at the chance to take rubbish and turn it into some very handy things. More than 130 re-inventions were judged on their usefulness, good looks, use of rubbish, and their ability to bring a garden to life.

The theme in 2018 is keeping our waterways clean and conserving water.

So, who were last year’s winners…. Drum roll….

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IBenn and Bianca of Donnybrook DHS

Sitting pretty

Benn Longbottom (14) and Bianca Peachey (13) of Donnybrook District High School won the high school prize in 2017.

“We invented a 44-gallon drum bench set for the garden,” says Bianca. The pair used an old wooden pallet and empty drum. “We pulled the planks off the pallet and used them as the seat and back rest. Apart from the spray paint, all our resources were recycled,” Benn says.

“We now realise how important it is for everyone to minimise their impact on the environment, to ensure we aren’t living in a rubbish dump.”

Standing tall


Boyanup Primary School

The 2017 primary school prize went to Boyanup Primary School’s preprimary class. “We created a scarecrow by filling an old pair of overalls with straw and then put a bucket on top for his head,” explains Max. The class also used old jeans to make pots for plants. Ivy says: “The hardest bit when we filled up our jeans was [when] Miss Lewis forgot to sew up one leg so the gravel kept falling out.”

“Each child has ownership of one pair, with the principal’s name on the adult pair,” says their teacher, Marion Lewis.

Rust in peace

Josiah Truss, 17, was commended for his 2017 project, which recycled a toilet, wooden boards and plastic buckets to create a raised garden bed, complete with worm farm. “I thought it looked a bit like one of those old-fashioned graves you see in the pioneer cemeteries, so I painted “Rust in peace” on the front boards,” Josiah says.


Liam, 13, won the 2017 community division with a dog he made using scrap metal, golf balls, a paint roller, a grass hula skirt, and a door handle. The dog is a memorial for Liam’s pets. “I really miss them and wanted to use this opportunity to create a lasting memory of them in our garden,” he says.

Apple tree art

Zy Child, 9, won the 2017 community division with a mosaic made from bottle caps. “I live in Coral Bay WA and this is where the outback meets the sea, so our landscape is pretty barren with not much colour. My idea of lush green grass and an apple tree is to inspire the garden in these harsh conditions,” he says.

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You can enter as a classroom or as an individual.

Either way, there are loads of cross-curriclum activities and outcomes: think STEAM and STEM, Science, Arts, Technologies and Human Society and its Environment.  There are links to the Western Australian curriculum here.

All entrants will receive a participation certificate and are in the running to share in $3000 in prizes.

This article first appeared in Crinkling News.

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Science break: All about drool

Hidden treasure? A forgotten folder of science
While I was searching for fiction ideas, I found a folder of unpublished science stories that I had totally forgotten about. The first of these was an introduction to slobber (don’t you just love slobber?!)

If your mouth is watering just thinking about slobber, then you need to read this:

Drool, also known as spit, slobber or saliva, is the first step in preparing your food for its downward journey.

As you chew, you produce lots of super-slimy saliva which puts a slippery coating on the chunks of food in your mouth. This makes everything beautifully soggy: all ready to slide down your throat.

The goopy globs of pre-chewed food are called “bolus”. You produce one to two litres of saliva every day, so you can make a whole lot of bolus.

Meet amylase

Saliva is around 98% water, but don’t let that fool you. The remaining 2% does most of the work.

Every spit globule contains a potent mix of chemicals that work to break your food into smaller bits. The most important ingredient is an enzyme called amylase, a digestion specialist.

Amylase works like a pair of scissors, slicing giant starch molecules into smaller, sugary molecules. This means that you begin to digest starchy foods — like rice, bread and pasta — even before they hit your stomach.

Your saliva also contains mucus, which is crammed full of natural chemicals that produce a helpful slimy texture. The saliva slime glues your food into tasty bolus balls, all ready for the next exciting part of digestion (which we won’t cover here, but I think you know where digestion ends up).

Other slobber bonuses

Slobber keeps your tongue wet, which helps you to taste your food, and it keeps your mouth clean, thanks to the constant rinsing, swallowing and secreting. Just imagine your life without spit!

Experiment: Sweet as

You will need:

  • A piece of bread
  • Lots of spit

What to do:

Take a big bite of the bread and start chewing. What does it taste like? Keep chewing until the bread becomes totally mushy. Keep chewing, keep chewing. Don’t swallow! Chew for at least two minutes. What does the bread taste like now?

Why is it so?

Bread is high in starchy carbohydrates and low in sugar, but the more you chew, the more sugar you will be able to taste. The amylase in your spit slices through the giant starch molecules in your bread, turning them into smaller sugary molecules, which is why the bread starts to taste so sweet.

Hooray for spit!


Could Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak really make someone invisible?

I’ve been thinking lots of good science thoughts this week because I’m dreaming up a new and exciting project.

Science is pretty cool, and science for kids is even cooler. Many of you know I used to perform kids science shows as part of the Shell Questacon Science Circus and for Science on the Move. I’m also a past editor of Australia’s Scientriffic magazine, now Double Helix.

(If you want awesome science activities and news delivered to your inbox every week for free, subscribe to the FREE Science by Email…it’s brilliant).

But, back to the title of this post:

Could Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak really make someone invisible?

And the answer is…


If your eyes are open and the lights are on, you can see most things. Objects are visible because they reflect or bend the light that hits them.  If you can see something, it’s because light is bouncing from that something into your eyes.  Some things — like air or water or glass — are transparent or translucent, so instead of reflecting all the light that hits them, some of that light can shine right through them. Transparent things are harder to spot, but there is one giveaway: light usually bends as it shines through an object.

The speed of light in a particular material is constant.  However, when light moves between two different materials, it usually changes speed.  This change in speed causes the light to bend, and our eyes can detect the change in its direction.

For example, when light moves from the air into a raindrop and back out again, the light changes speed, which causes the light to bend.  Our eyes can see this bend in the light, which is why we can see raindrops falling in the sky.

Each material bends light by a particular amount.  We call this amount the refractive index of that material.  If the refractive index of rain was exactly the same as the refractive index of air, light wouldn’t bend as it went through a raindrop falling in the sky.  And if the light didn’t bend, our eyes couldn’t see the raindrops falling at all – they would be invisible!


If the refractive index of Harry’s cloak was exactly the same as the refractive index of the air in a room, the cloak would be invisible in that room.


Even if Harry’s cloak was invisible, we would still be able to see Harry underneath it!  Harry’s body would have a different refractive index to the air, and to his cloak, which means he would still be visible behind his cloak in the same way that you are still visible behind a glass window.  For the cloak to make Harry invisible, it would need to change the refractive index of Harry’s body to exactly match the refractive index of the air.

Impossible? Yes. But only in a world without magic 😉

Question to think about: Would Harry’s cloak still be invisible if you looked at it underwater?

And of course, an activity to try at home!

Matching refractive indices

This experiment demonstrates that if light passes through two media with equal refractive indices it will not bend nor reflect at the boundary.

  1. Put a small Pyrex bowl inside a larger Pyrex bowl.
  2. Pour Baby Oil into the small bowl till the oil overflows into the large bowl. The refractive index of Baby Oil is nearly equal to the refractive index of Pyrex glass. The small bowl should become practically invisible.
  3. If you have a glass eyedropper try putting it into the oil.  It will be easy to see because of the difference between the refractive indices of air and glass.
  4. Try sucking up the oil into the eyedropper.  The eyedropper should become almost invisible because the refractive index of the glass is nearly the same as that of the oil.  When light passes between the oil and the glass it is only bent a little, and the dropper appears invisible.

Note: If you don’t want to waste the baby oil, use the glass to pour it back into the bottle. Make sure you do this over the bowl so it doesn’t get everywhere.

This post is a revised version of my original article, first printed in The Helix magaazine.

Other posts you might enjoy:

Enma Daio, Datsue-ba, and one great reason to die with your clothes on

How to keep your New Year Resolution: Papier mache daruma dolls

Takeshita Demons: help us choose the cover art

8 cool myths about dogs, and why the inugami dog-god didn’t make it

Hiragana word search: Find the yokai demons and practise your Japanese


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Science on the Move: South Africa

I’ve just found out that my great pal and co-presenter Graham Walker is back in South Africa this year with a mobile science show raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.

At last week’s “Meet the Talent” session, I talked briefly of my experience in a science circus, mentioning that I’ve presented to a gazillion children over my years on the road. Some of these children were in Zululand, South Africa, where Graham and I volunteered with the FABULOUS UniZul Science Centre and Science on the Move, a mobile science exhibition that travels to remote and disadvantaged schools.

What follows is the story of one day on the road
(the photos come from many different days :-))

Fenced primary schools of ragged curious children, interactive science shows performed to packed classrooms, low-tech teacher workshops, streams of learners through the hands-on exhibition… We escape potholes, dodge taxis, pack boxes, choose words…Welcome to another day trucking with Science on the Move.

On this particular day we are travelling in a convoy of two, and already deep into the dirt roads and rolling hills of Zululand when we first suspect something is up.

The lead car, the one containing the teacher sent to guide us to her school, stops to ask a passerby for directions. Hang on…how can a teacher not know the way to her own school?

A few minutes on we stop again to ask for more directions. The T-shirt of the woman we ask reads: “Smile and be happy”. And so when she points in the opposite direction, we just smile and happily do a U-turn, narrowly avoiding a pothole that eats up half the road.

During the drive we pass two schools and no cars, and we are still heading into the hills when my co-presenter Graham leans over and whispers: “Are you covered for abduction?”

I’m still not sure what the answer to this question is. Hopefully I will never have to find out.

Just as we are beginning to entertain the idea that this teacher is an imposter sent to lead us to our ambush doom, we arrive at the school.

It is literally on the edge of nowhere. On one side are the round huts of the village, on the other, empty hills. The sign on the barbed wire fence says “No guns, No knives, No alcohol”. It’s a primary school.

There are 295 learners and the school fees are 50 Rand (around US$6.50) a year. There are six classrooms, wooden desks, concrete floors.

We do two shows (including the first-ever show performed by a female member of the science centre staff)(Yeeha!) and we get the whole school through the exhibition.

The kids understand hardly any English and are entranced by our white skin and big body language. The littlies dance in the just-shiny reflection of Derek’s car.

They seem to think I am an MTV diva…the girls strut and flick their hair in an imitation of what they think white women are, except that I’m wearing dirty sneakers with my hair shoved in a super-daggy cap.

The boys race to be the one to help me carry boxes; their friends point and look on and laugh. Some mock my sing-song language when they don’t understand. Others (none today) can hold a perfect English conversation.

There are ten staff, all women. At the end of the teacher workshop, when I ask if there are any questions, the teachers pepper me: How does rain work? Why are Australians so good at sport? What does the rest of the world think of Africa?

One woman raises her hand and says, “Can you help? Can you help our school?”

At the end of a hot, steamy, dusty, non-stop day we are offered another, different, escort for the trip home. Only then do the teachers come clean:

“Hijackings. This area is known for its hijackings. They see you arrive, and then they wait for you to come back. She will show you a different road home.”

Yikes. The first teacher didn’t know the way to her school because she was deliberately taking us a different way. Yikes again.

I cannot say it enough: These weeks were an AMAZING time. Many, many thanks to the amazing staff of the UniZul Science Centre, to the Fish family, Graham Walker, the Duck Inn, CPAS at the Australian National University and many more. Wow. Thankyou.

Good luck with the new show Graham! One day we’ll bring Fergus to Richard’s Bay and see if he can build the house of nails!

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Although I can’t seem to pronounce “library” (apparently I say “lye-berry” and this is wrong?)(how did I get to this ripe old age and noone has ever told me that before??), I do love them.

This week I went to the State Library of Western Australia for the MEET THE TALENT session with a stack of awesome Youth Services Librarians (lye-berry-ens?), and guess what? I was the talent! Woo hoo. How much fun is that?

But the best bit was that I got to leave the house, alone, catch a train, alone, and meet a bunch of interesting adults and talk about books and writing (and not babies!). It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking about Fergus all day and all night (because I do: he’s really very Clever and Gifted and Good Looking), but HOOLEY DOOLEY it was great to forget all that for a couple of hours and be a writer again.

The session was designed to give librarians an idea of what kind of school visits West Australian authors and illustrators are available for, what kind of workshops, how many sessions, etc etc.

I said I was available most days to do most things, but of course my favourite thing is to run sessions that mix non-fiction with fiction, as I have done with TAKESHITA DEMONS (which features some Japanese mythology) and also ONE WEEKEND WITH KILLIECRANKIE (which features some gene engineering and biology). After all, nine-tenths of a good lie is the truth. Or a bit of fact makes for really great fiction.

Also this week I’ve been working on the finale to FORESTS AND FILTH LICKERS. Its thrilling to see everything coming together, and it’s hard work to sustain the pace.

And while all this has been going on, reviews of TAKESHITA DEMONS have been coming in…there are another two online. It’s very exciting…I even got Fan Mail this week (thanks!!). It’s still extremely nerve-wracking. Lucky I enjoy writing these stories so much! 🙂

Cheers to lye-berry-ens!


And PS: Parents and kids in WA: check out the State Library’s fun zone for children, called The Place. It’s well worth a visit!


Utterly hilarious procrastination tool

Can’t go wrong.

Try this face-transforming tool and spend valuable minutes laughing out loud. You’ll add years to your life.

Some favourites below: from left: Babyface, Mangaface, Manface, EastAsianface and Muchaface.

Big thanks to Mr Science, who put me on to the tool in this post.

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Runner up in travel writing comp

Wahey! I Googled myself today (was thinking of applying for an Emerging Writer grant with the Australian Society of Authors so was searching for any eligible writing credits)(as if I need an excuse to Google myself ;-)) and discovered I am a runner up in the 2009 Independent on Sunday/Bradt Travel-Writing Competition. Stoked! Apparently that means  was “nominated for the final by one or more judge, but didn’t quite make it.” Just as well really! The first prize was a holiday for two to Columbia, taken within 12 months of winning (not something we could readily undertake with a new baby, due any day now) and “unpublished” catetgory prize was a writing retreat in Spain, also not something that goes well with a newborn 😉

Congratulations to the six writers who made it through to the finals… Although Judge Matthew Parris makes the final decision, you can read the finalist’s articles online and choose for yourself who the winners should be…

And in other news: the publishing contract from Frances Lincoln Books, my Takeshita Demons publisher, is on its way (apparently I should call if it doesn’t arrive by Wednesday!) and I am biting my nails waiting for a response from an agent who has Beyond the Safe Zone, my 50,000-word adventure thriller for kids. And of course, I’m days short of 39-weeks pregnant, which leads to nail-biting of an entirely different kind. (Is this my last free weekend? Or are there still weeks to go?).

I’m not good at waiting around, so we’re booking dinners (Japanese!) and I’m working on some science writing for G-Day UK‘s Square Kilometre Array event. Not heard of the Square Kilometre Array? It’s going to be the world’s largest radio telescope, formed from thousands of individual dishes spread over a million square kilometres and giving us the power to see more of the universe than ever before possible: a 10,000-fold increase on anything previously possible. Awesome huh!

Then there’s the computing behind it: Apparently our planet generates an exabyte of data every year. The SKA will produce the same data volume every day. How’s that for incentive to innovate!? Watch this space: I’ll post a link to the full article and you can follow progress on this massive project.

Oh, and did I mention? My home state Western Australia is one of two places in the world still in the running to host the telescope. Apparently the population density at the proposed site (three millipeople per square kilometre) is just right for minimal interference from mobile phones, microwaves and garage door openers…that sort of thing. Being a desert state has its advantages… Go WA!