Reduce Reuse and Rethink: New QM Resource

                                                        Recycling and the Australian Curriculum

Teaching is characteristically a time poor occupation and no more so than in the modern classroom. In our efforts to deliver the entire curriculum (in a perfect classroom with well-behaved children who attend school nearly every day!), we need to be clever about maximising the potential of learning in each lesson. Specifically, we need to reduce the need for different activities to teach different subjects, reuse a context to build deeper understanding and rethink how we can better link classroom learning to real world situations. Recycling provides us with just such an opportunity.

Recycling can be used as a way of delivering several aspects of the Australian Curriculum for Science, Mathematics and English and for technology Essential Learnings for a number of year levels. In a nutshell, the recycling process fosters the understanding of the properties of materials, physical and chemical change, magnetism, measurement, labelling, human impact on the environment and other living things, systems, design and resources. The opportunities abound for inquiry and analytical processes and to see real world applications for the use and influence of science, maths and literacy.

Queensland Museum teachers have developed a new resource in conjunction with external recycling partners.  Recycling can be incorporated into a number of year levels, so we have not provided unit/ lesson plans but have instead provided the relevant curriculum links and the resources such as images and investigations which can be linked with existing planning. The resource includes images of recycling plants and processes which are not easily accessible to teachers and students and some investigation and activity ideas. We are just waiting for a content check from SIMS and the new resource will become available. It will be located in our learning resources/ resources/Australian Curriculum suite but we will notify you when the link is active.

Queensland Museum and Sciencentre would like to thank SIMS Metal Recyclers, Brisbane City Council, Moreton Bay Regional Council Waste Services, Christopher Trotter (Artist) and Visy for their enthusiastic support of our recent Science of Recycling exhibit.

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It’s Taxon Time

The “Zoo Animals” went into the tin with the blue lid, while my “Farm Animals” went in the tin with the green lid. The animal kingdom, as I knew it, lived under my bed in Streets ice-cream tins. All were classified, according to contexts developed from the songs, books and experiences of a four-year old. Fast forward to 2012 and, as a Museum Educator, I am delighted to be sharing the topic of Animal Classification with the next generation of biologists, taxonomists or collectors.

Queensland Museum has re-launched Animal Classification into our range of school programs. Bookings are now being taken for Yr 3-7* classes to experience a value-added program to enrich your Museum visit 

If the  concept of Animal Classification makes you numb, let us please change your mind. School programs are delivered by the Museum Learning team, using real collections to elicit real experiences. This is a valuable option in an increasingly virtual world.

Students can interact with real museum specimens

This program primarily responds to Science Understanding descriptors in Australian Curriculum: Science for Yrs 3 and 7, but also addresses Science as a Human Endeavour and Science Inquiry Skills for Yrs 3-7.

So how does classification apply to our lives? You don’t even need to be a collector to use it. We find classification systems everywhere – from libraries to supermarkets. Things that are in some way similar are arranged together for comprehension and convenience.

So how does animal classification apply to our lives? Animals are grouped as part of the process that describes or identifies them down to an individual species. This helps us effectively communicate information about them. Understanding characteristics of a particular species or group can affect our health and welfare, economic growth and ability to effectively manage the conservation of our wildlife.

 Dr Karl Kruszelnicki has shared the virtues of the dung beetle since the CSIRO introduced several species to Australia in the late 1960s. The objective was to manage a bi-product of grazing and its impact on fly control (the bi-product that wasn’t destined for our taste buds or footwear). Selected species were introduced to a number of Australian climates and ecosystems resulting in a biological control success story. Our approx 350-400 species of native dung beetle evolved to mostly feed on the smaller, drier, fibrous dung pellets of marsupials.

The hard-working Honeybee

Other examples of genus-specific relationships are applied in agriculture (both in pollination and pest management). According to the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Honeybees add an estimated $4 – 6 billion to Australian agricultural and horticultural industries, annually.

Further examples of identified animal groups have supported medical research. Studies of Tammar Wallaby and other marsupial forms of milk have provided medical researchers with a template for investigating antimicrobial compounds, potentially resistant to “superbugs”.

Examples of animals helping humans can be ‘reciprocated’ in conservation campaigns. Most Queenslanders are aware of the plight of the endangered Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat. Distribution once extended south to the Victorian border. By the 1980s, a drastically reduced population was reportedly (without the advanced surveying methods in use, today) around 35 wombats. A remnant population in Epping Forest National Park (South-West of Mackay, Queensland) was recognised as the last chance to protect this species. Since then, wombat numbers have been carefully monitored and protected, reaching around 138 today. In 2009, the colony was deemed at risk should an environmental disaster such as fire or flood affect the region. To mitigate this, the decision was made to establish a second breeding colony 600km south at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge (near St George, Queensland). Recent reports (May 2012) indicate this second population is stable with the current “snout count” at seven females, three males and three joeys in good condition.

The Northern-Hairy-Nosed wombat is critically endangered

A smaller cousin, the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat has maintained a conservation status of ‘Least Concern’, although recent reports suggest it, too is affected by similar threats.  These include reduced/replaced food plants and possibly toxins from introduced weeds. Relationships determined by the classification of animals can help us to make informed decisions. Are we prepared to learn from the past to determine the future?

The Animal Classification theme is supported by a range of Queensland Museum exhibitions and resources.

 * Please note:  Secondary school, teachers can also select a Biodiversity and Classification program, which can be tailored to your unit of work by prior arrangement.

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What’s On at the Museum during Science Week?

 National Science Week runs from 11th – 19th August.  There are a rich variety of activities happening around the state that showcase the wonderful world of science. Details can be found from this link.

Queensland Museum has a full program of fun and informative programs – so come on down to sample a few this week.

The Science of Recycling

Mum and toddler enjoying practical science activities in the recycling area

A hands-on activity for all ages! Play and create with all sorts of recycled materials and learn about the science behind recycling.  Includes a small under twos play area with ideas for toys made from recycled materials.

Where? On Level 2 next to the Dinosaurs and near the Café.

Guided shows On Wednesday the 15th at 11am and Saturday the 18th at 11am and 1pm

The Science Debate – Wednesday 15th of August 1-2 pm:

Science debate featuring the top university debaters from Queensland.

Expect an entertaining and intellectually stimulating performance as members of the University of Queensland Debating Society, ranked in the Top 20 debating institutions worldwide; passionately defend their position on the topic: “That climate-change sceptics without relevant qualifications should not be allowed to appear in the media”.

Presented by the Queensland Debating Union and hosted by the Queensland Museum & Sciencentre in the level 2 theatre.

Nitrogen Show: 13th, 14th and 17th of August

Everyone loves a Nitrogen Show. With popping lids, shrinking balloons, whistling kettles and frozen flowers this show explores the science behind the effect that a liquid, at 196 degrees below zero, has on everyday objects. Shows will be held in the QM&S theatre at 10.00 and 2.00.


Liquid nitrogen demonstrations at QM are ‘the coolest shows on earth’

Curator Talks

Meet the Curator at 1pm: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday

Science of Conservation 10:30am – 12:30pm: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

You can find further details about the programmes and the presenters on our website – click the links above

Queens Street Mall

If you are passing through the CBD this week you’ll see several different National Science Week displays including this popular one which invites the public to “Do touch the animals”.

Many of the public are well informed about Australian fauna and loved handling the specimens.

Posted in Citizen Science | 1 Comment

“Going Places” – Physics on show at QM Sciencentre

A new exhibition has arrived called “Going Places” at Queensland Museum & Sciencentre. This interactive exhibition is all about travel on the sea, in the air and over the land.  It is also a fantastic hands on demonstration of the science of physics at work. Some of the hands on and whole body on exhibits include:

Hoverdisk – Hop on board a hoverdisk and float across the floor. Learn about how the cushion of air allows hovercraft to travel across roads, sands, water and more.

Rock the Boat – Packing a cargo ship is not easy. Visitors will attempt to prevent capsize while loading blocks onto a ship. Factor in centre of gravity, buoyancy and packing arrangements and get ready for some hilarious results!

Shifting Steel – Did you know that same principles of moving people can also be used to move heavy objects? See if you can shift our heavy weight on nothing but air.

Recumbent Racer – Which is best: recumbent or racer? Race a friend to find out which type of bicycle travels fastest up and down hills and how professional cyclists reduce their aerodynamic profile to get the fastest times.

Land Yacht – Sailing is not just for the seas. Try your luck at sailing a land yacht against perilous winds. Travelling downwind is easy – but can you sail into the wind? You will need to use angles and of course, ingenuity.

These examples are just some of over 20 stations that make up the Going Places exhibition now open at Queensland Museum & Sciencentre. 

Your entry fee also covers the regular Sciencentre exhibits in the Body Zone and Action Stations.

Prices: Adult: $13.00 Concession/Full-time Student: $11.00 Child (3-15) (must be accompanied by an adult 18+) $10.00  Family: (2 Adults/Concessions & up to 4 Children) $40.00 Groups: 10+ and School Groups $8 Tickets sold until 4.00pm

For more information visit

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Science Principles in Traditional Aboriginal Australia

During traditional times, Aboriginal people showed an ingenious mastery of physics to create hunting equipment and labour-saving tools.  They demonstrated knowledge of chemistry, held a deep understanding of biology through powerful observation and using all the senses to predict and hypothesis.  Additionally, they were competent at testing through trial and error, making adaptations and retesting to achieve a final result.   Aboriginal people were experts at reading signs signalling seasonal changes and life cycles.  They understood that the entire environment around them was intertwined and depended on careful stewardship of their custodial area to survive and thrive.

Traditional knowledge held by Aboriginal people demonstrated an ingenious mastery and deep understanding of Biology and Chemistry. From generations of knowledge passed down orally, they invented labour-saving tools and techniques aimed at making food gathering easier. The rainforest people knew how to make multiple uses of plants such as the buttress roots of the fig tree, lawyer cane, seeds, palms and vines. 

Traditional aboriginal shields were developed using a variety of scientific properties including strength and flexibility

For example, they were able to understand that grinding toxic seeds on the morah stone would break down cell membranes and when put in running water the toxins would leach out.   They discovered that heating up toxic seeds would also break down cell membranes and remove the poison.  The Aboriginal people of the rainforest invented the bicornual basket to act as a sieve for the ground seeds.  They knew that placing the basket in running water, loaded with the ground seeds, the toxins would leach out. The cleverly woven basket could stay for days at a time in the water without disintegrating because of the vine’s strength.  These baskets made from lawyer cane, Calamus caryotoides, which is a prickly climbing vine were ergonomically designed to endure and withstand many functions.

The rainforest is a veritable supermarket, abundant in plant and animal food sources. Aboriginal people of the rainforest used their spearthrowers, firesticks, morah stones, nutstones, bicornual baskets and ooyurka stones to make hunting and the preparation of food easier. 

Firesticks used the principle of friction to create heat and fire

The spear thrower (also called a woomera) is used with a spear. It acts as a lever to project the spear with force and speed.  This enabled the thrower to increase the spear’s trajectory over a longer distance. 

The morah stone was designed to grate or grind down toxic seeds in preparation for leaching.  A push and pull motion was used on the stone with the topstone as it broke down the seed on the morah stone

The bicornual basket has an ergonomical design. The Aboriginal people of the rainforest designed it to fit securely and comfortably on their back whilst the handle part is hung from the forehead.  From this position, the basket user could carry a controlled weight easily while having their hands free.

The t-shaped ooyuruka stone was designed as a scraper and was used with a push and pull motion to remove seed residue from the morah stone. It was also used to make a groove in a stone axe head and could be bound easily with twine.

Oourooks stones were shaped to enable an efficient “pull and push’ motion

The nut stone was designed to make cracking open the hard exterior of nuts easier. The grooves etched in the nutstone allowed less force to be exerted.

Firesticks usually consisted of two long drill sticks and a case that protected the drill parts. The firemaker would use friction between the two drill sticks to make heat and a fire would result.

The Rainforest people built strong shelters made with lawyer cane, fan palm leaves, blady grass, rushes and barks.  Knowledge of tight weaving and thatching handed down through generations gave them the skills to waterproof their shelters against heavy tropical rains. Inside the shelters the people kept their precious shields, swords, baskets, axes, firesticks, ochre, boomerangs. Outside sat morah stones and nut-stones.  For many generations this lifestyle was maintained.

Without this deep scientific knowledge and understanding, Aboriginal people would not have survived for thousands of years.

Posted in Indigenous-Science | 2 Comments

Brisbane and its Tunnels: Science in Action

The Airport link tunnel opened this week.  This road network between Bowen Hills, Kedron and Toombul has come at a cost of $4.8 billion dollars.  But I wonder if teachers, children and the general public know how these tunnels are excavated?

Rocksy before use. Image: Thiess John Holland

Rocksy before use. Image: Thiess John Holland

Enter the Tunnel Boring Machine or TBM for short.  These mechanical marvels are at the heart of tunnel digging technology today.  The TBM first came into the public spotlight through the construction of the channel tunnel.  The Channel Tunnel is a 50.5km under sea rail tunnel that links England and France that opened in 1994.  Although this is not the longest transport tunnel, that honour currently belongs to the Seikan Rail Tunnel in Japan at 53.85 km. 

TBM Rocksy moving through cavern. Image: Thiess John Holland

TBM Rocksy moving through cavern. Image: Thiess John Holland

It is the TBM that has made this travel revolution possible.  The TBM is a complex machine to say the least.  At the business end is a rotating cutter head.  The cutter head uses several steel cutting disks to create compressive stress fractures on the rock face being drilled.  This fractured rock falls away and is scooped in through the cutter head and transported out through the machine on conveyers. The TBM provides itself with forward pressure by bracing itself against the walls of the tunnel it has created.  The large hydraulic feet not only provide forward pressure to the cutter head, but also allow the machine to be steered through the ground. 

Tunnel lining segments

Tunnel lining segments

Behind all the cutting and rock removal the machine also lines the tunnel with pre-formed concrete rings.  These rings, made from pre-formed concrete pieces provide support to the tunnel walls and result in a smooth safe tunnel ready for the construction of a road or railway. It’s this ability to cut the rock, remove the rubble and line the walls all at he same time that makes these machines so successful.  The other added bonus of using a TBM is the limited vibration and noise that these machines create compared with the traditional drill and blast tunnelling methods.  This makes the TBM ideal for tunnelling under urban areas such as the suburbs of Brisbane.

Lined tunnel

Lined tunnel

The two TBM’s used on the Airport link project “Rocksy” and “Sandy” are 12.5 metres wide with the largest “Rocksy” being 195 metres long, the largest machine of its type ever used in Australia. Each machine was built specifically for the Airport Link project in Germany at a cost of $45 million each, and took three months to assemble at the airport link site. Rocksy even needed to start tunnelling so there was room to build that back half of the machine inside the assembly box at Toombul.   

Due to the size of these machines and their specialised construction it was decided that they would be entombed in the ground at the end of the tunnel construction.  So next time you dash off to the airport or drive through the link to the city you will drive over the TBM’s which have been buried 16m under the roadway.

Laerdals Tunnel Entrance

Laerdals Tunnel Entrance

The Airport link is the longest tunnel complex in Australia.  But even if you add the 4.8km of the Clem 7  to the 6.7km of Airport Link, it is still not half the length of the Laerdel Tunnel in Norway. At 24.5 km in length the Laerdel tunnel is the longest road tunnel in the world.  The Laerdel road tunnel is still less than half the length of the longest rail tunnel the Seikan in Japan.

We now await the commencement of the TBM working on Legacy Way, connecting the Western Freeway to the Inner City Bypass and the Clem7 and Airport Link tunnels.

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Does size matter? Misidentification of, and assumptions about, the world’s largest lizard

Humans are fascinated by extremes; just consider the popularity of the Guinness Book of Records. It’s also reflected by our fascination with huge dinosaurs; think Tyrannosaurus rex and Brachiosaurus. So it is not surprising that claims that ‘giant predatory lizards 11m long once roamed Ancient Australia’ would garner attention and intrigue. In fact the lizard was appropriately given the scientific name, Megalania, meaning ‘giant ripper’. But the search for the true size and nature of this giant reptile, reveals a story of misidentification, opposing ideas, inexact science and false assumptions.

Megalania skull replica

Megalania skull replica

The story begins in the 19th Century, with a large number of fossils of a particular type being uncovered by land owners and naturalists. The size of the bones and teeth indicated that the animal was large. Many perceived the fossils to be of a dinosaur and others classified them as crocodilian. It was never dreamt of at the time that they could been the remains of a gigantic lizard (the Komodo dragon was unknown to science at that time). However, as fragments were combined and examined more closely, it gradually became clear that these were the remains of a giant extinct lizard living during the late Pleistocene, approximately 30,000-180,000 years ago.

Well actually, it wasn’t that clear. In fact the science was decidedly murky. Many of the remains were incorrectly labelled for a long time, and were actually the bones of giant land tortoises, giant flightless birds or even giant marsupials. The opposite also occurred, with many bones identified as belonging to these groups, actually being those of Megalania. Debate among palaeontologists over these matters ruffled a few feathers.

But the debate really got heated around the issue of the size of Megalania. Early estimates inferred a length of 3 m, but over time, the body length increased to 9, 10 and even 11 m—stupendously big for a lizard. It was almost as if a competition was being held: “my Megalania is bigger than yours”.

Estimated sizes of the extant monitor lizards Komodo dragon and Perentie, compared to different estimated sizes of the "Megalania" (Varanus prisca).

Estimated sizes of the extant monitor lizards Komodo dragon and Perentie, compared to different estimated sizes of the “Megalania” (Varanus prisca).

The variation in size estimates arises from assumptions that have to be made, largely due to the fragmentary nature of the evidence. For example:

  • The ratio of claw length to body length from living goannas was applied to the fossil claws of Megalania. The only problem was that it is later discovered they were giant flightless bird claws – not Megalania.
  • Determining the head length from skull remains, and then using the head-to-body length ratio of a lace monitor (alive today) to calculate a length of around 7-10 m. However, further research has identified that the ratio is much smaller in komodos and Megalania, so the size was a massive overestimate.

The confusion of the Megalania story intrigued Queensland Museum palaeontologist and Snr. Curator Geosciences, Dr.Scott Hocknull. He recognised that as a key predatory animal, gaining an accurate understanding of it’s biology is essential in understanding the ecology of prehistoric Australia. So Scott travelled the country and even overseas to examine every Megalania fossil he could find.  Meticulous measurements of the remains, and comparison with living goanna species, has helped test many of the assumptions previously made, and identified a total body length of between 5 and 6 m. This still makes it the largest lizard to have ever lived.

Snr. Curator Geosciences, Scott Hocknull, describes some fo the features of a Megalania skull.

Snr. Curator Geosciences, Scott Hocknull, describes some of the features of a Megalania skull replica.

This situation is a prime example of one of the AC: Science learning descriptors within the strand ‘Science as a Human Endeavour’.  ‘Scientific understanding, including models and theories, are contestable and are refined over time through a process of review by the scientific community’ (Yr 9). Science is not always exact, assumptions are made and formulas applied. Scientists are also human and can become attached to particular theories.

So should scientists assume anything? It’s not a very rigorous and reliable methodology is it?  Assumptions are an inescapable and integral part of scientific research. In almost all cases when not everything is known about an object or topic, assumptions simply have to be made. The challenge is to minimise the number of assumptions, and when made, to ensure they are as valid as possible. Scientific investigation in one sense is all about testing assumptions and theories—by different people, using different approaches and as new evidence and material becomes available.

Palaeontology is one area of science particularly susceptible to forming assumptions due to the fragmentary nature and scarcity of evidence. Uncovering a single bed of fossils can overturn theories held for decades. In fact, this is just what is occurring at the moment with the discovery of an enormous fossil bed at South Walker Creek. Scott and his team from QM are investigating this site, and early results indicate that it will substantially expand and change our understanding of Ancient Australian megafauna, including our very own mega-lizard.

Posted in Curators' Corner, Scientific Fact or Fiction | Tagged , | 1 Comment