Category Archives: Science

A Little House Guest

This little fellow flew into our home today.

Isn’t he absolutely exquisite?!

Of course, he could be a she.

How does one tell the difference?

Regardless, we just loved this little critter.

After a bit of googling, we discovered that he’s most likely a cuckoo wasp.

(Here’s some info about him if you are interested).

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The species is a bit of a bully in the insect world.

They lay their eggs in the nests of other insects

so their larvae can feed on the resident larvae.

They usually target hornet nests,

and we aren’t fans of hornets, so we are definitely on Team Cuckoo!

We gave him a little piece of apricot while we took some photos

(which was pretty generous as those apricots cost us $12.90 a kilo!!).

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We could have gazed at his iridescent colouring all day long,

but, we eventually released our little visitor to the outside world.

It just amazes me that even the tiniest creatures are created with such attention to detail.

His little visit reminded us that we need to notice beauty in our world,

even when it’s found in such tiny forms.



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Posted by on March 4, 2017 in Science


Hadron Collider Exhibition

This weekend we went to the museum’s Hadron Collider Exhibition.

Have you visited yet?  Are you planning on visiting?

Do you have any idea of what the Hardon Collider is or does?

Initially, I didn’t.

I think I have a basic understanding of it now.

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Firstly, a hadron is a particle which is made up of quarks.

Protons and neutrons are hadrons.

So, a Large Hadron Collider collides hadrons.

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The Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, does these collisions within a 27km circular tunnel,

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which is 100 metres below Switzerland and France.

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Within this tunnel are beam pipes.

These pipes contain protons (remember, they are a hadron) in a vacuum.

One pipe send protons in a clockwise direction and the other sends them in an anti-clockwise directions.

These protons are accelerated around the 27km circular path at incredible speeds.

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Most of the LHC ring is made of incredibly powerful magnets.

These magnets steer the protons around the circle.

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Liquid helium flows through these magnets keeping them at an incredible -271.3 degrees Celcius,

which is only 1.9 degrees above the lowest possible temperature, absolute zero.

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When you cool metal it shrinks, and these pipes shrink about 30 metres when they are cooled.

To compensate for these compressions and expansions,

thousands of flexible connectors are positioned throughout the circuit.

Interestingly, when they first turned on the LHC in 2008,

one of these connectors failed to operate properly,

causing a breech in the circuit,

which led to liquid helium violently venting out and damaging 750 metres of the collider.

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This caused massive delays.

It was 2010 before it was ready to begin collisions again.

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Within the collider, there are also magnets that squeeze the proton beams together

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so they can collide inside one of the 4 large detectors.

(There are also 3 smaller detectors).

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The largest detector is over 25 metres tall,

which is huge compared to the size of the objects being collided,

objects we can’t even see because they are so small..

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When they collide, the protons are smashed into their smaller components.

These collisions create temperatures that are much hotter than the sun.

(Recent collisions have created temperatures 100 000 times hotter than the centre of the sun!)

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Physicists then analyse the data to see what the collision has created.

With 40 million collisions every second, the physicists rely on computer analysis to deal with all the data.

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It was the Higgs Boson that the physicists were looking for in their first experiments at the LHC

and, in 2012, they announced that they had found it.

(Watch the dvd “Particle Fever”, if you want to see what excited physicists look like).

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The Higgs Boson was the final piece of the Standard Model puzzle that physicists had been working on.

This is the model physicists currently use to explain all the basic ‘ingredients’ that they believe make up the universe.

(Nope, it’s not the proton, neutron and electron anymore.)

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Oh and don’t worry.

Just because they’ve found the Higgs Boson, doesn’t mean that all their questions are answered.

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So that’s what I learned at the Hadron Collider exhibition.

It’s very well presented.

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The experience starts with a short video

(but make sure you arrive 15 minutes before your time so you have time to look at the exhibits leading up to the auditorium)

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After the video, you begin your walk through the simulated LHC tunnel and offices.

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There are artifacts from the LHC to see

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and plenty of videos and audios to listen to.

(I really appreciated the subtitles and printed texts on all the audio components).

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As you walk through the simulated halls, pay attention to all the little details.

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On the physicists’ noticeboards, we found this treasure…

(If you can’t read the catchline it says, “Fun Fact: Ex-particle-physicists make the worst biologists.)

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Our favourite funny was this Schrodinger’s Cat one.

(You’ll have to look up “Schorodinger’s Cat” if you don’t find it funny.)

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Within the simulated office, you had to take your time and look around properly.

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There were lots of little details that you could miss if you were in a hurry.

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This was the simulated office of one of the people who were analysing the Higgs Boson data.

Make sure you stay to watch her reaction when she realises they have found the Higgs Boson.

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This exhibit was a visually spectacular one,

with lots of details

and stacks of reading.

We highly recommend it… with a couple of restrictions.

Firstly, I wouldn’t bother taking young children or younger students to see this exhibition.

It is not geared towards younger learners who can’t grasp what is happening at the LHC.

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And secondly, to get the most out of the experience, I would prepare your students before going.

My family read this new release book, “Smash:  Exploring the Mysteries of the Universe with the Large Hadron Collider”

(It’s a graphic novel but beggars can’t be choosers when there’s so little written about the LHC and particle physics for younger audiences)

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We also watched “Particle Fever” which was an excellent documentary

and, if you can only do one thing in preparation, I would watch this dvd.


With the right audience, who is fully prepared to engage with the information, the Hadron Collider exhibition at the Brisbane Museum is well-worth a visit.


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Posted by on February 5, 2017 in Field Trips, Science


An Afternoon at the Beach

During summer, my boys often head to the beach with Daddy.

But, this week, I tagged along with them to snap a few shots.

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We are blessed to live very close to the most beautiful beaches in Australia.

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I mean, just look at this place.

This is why people flock to the Gold Coast for their holidays.

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We’ve been taking our boys to the beach in summer

every since they were small.

They love it.

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When the suggestion is made to head to the beach,

they grab their boogieboards and run to the car.

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This is PE in our homeschool!

No running laps for us.

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We always head to the beach in the late afternoon

and catch just the last couple of lifeguard hours.

It’s nice and quiet at that time of the day.

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So, for two hours, I sat and watched my men catch waves into shore.

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Just look at them go.

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They love it.

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And the waves aren’t always forgiving

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but they still go back for more.

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On this trip, my men didn’t stay in the water for as long as normal.

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They got tired of dodging jellyfish.

(Do you see the Blue Blubber jellyfish on the beach?

They were washing up everywhere.)

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We counted 5 species of jellyfish that day.

Blue Blubber jellyfish,

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Moon Jellies,

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Blue Bottles (not photographed), Blue Buttons (blue thing to the left) and Velellas (blue thing to the right).

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So, they got out of the water,

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and we took a walk along the beach instead.

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We had to walk carefully though.

The beach was covered with jellyfish and every wave washed more onto shore.

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Check out the habitat we found on this cuttlefish bone!

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We think these are gooseneck barnacles.

Whatever they were, they were still alive and poking in and out of their shells.

We popped their little raft back into the ocean.

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I’ve always lived near the water

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and am glad that my boys do too.

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Posted by on December 17, 2016 in Family Life, Field Trips, Physical Education, Science


Wivenhoe Dam and Mt Crosby Water Treatment Plant

The other week we went on an awesome homeschool excursion

to Wivenhoe Dam and Mt Crosby Water Treatment Plant.

It was a very big day with lots of driving.

We arrived early so we could stop off and see the spillway gates

(which weren’t part of the official tour).
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How impressive would it be to see all 5 gates open and spilling water out into the river!

I’d love to take the boys out to see this one time.

(However, I have concerns that the roads around Spillway Common

and the carparking facilities at the lookout

wouldn’t cope well with too many sightseers and that’s a major deterrent for me.)
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I wonder how far up the water reaches when the 5 spillway gates are open.

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On the day we visited, the only water we saw running was this little tinkle,

which I assuming is just the tiny continual release that keeps the water moving and healthy.

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Of course, I positioned the boys for the mandatory ‘I’ve been there’ photo.

Don’t they look thrilled.

Okay, well it had started to rain.

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The morning certainly made us worried about the weather for the day.

It was drizzly and rather miserable looking.

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But we continued on anyway,

stopping to check out the dam wall before meeting up with our tour group.

Did you know that Wivenhoe Dam is an earth and rock embankment wall dam?

Only the spillway section is concrete.

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As you get your first view of the dam,

it’s kind of a ‘wow’ moment,

especially when you stop to think that it was once a valley

that man flooded to create a dam.

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Oh and this view shows only a very small part of the dam.

At a guess, using a map to estimate, I’d say this is about a tenth of the dam.

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That white building you can see in the distance is Wivenhoe Hydroelectric Power Station.

They pump water up from Wivenhoe Dam into Splityard Creek Dam,

and then, during peak demand,

they release the water from Splityard Creek Dam

through the turbine generators.

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Yep, more ‘stand there and smile’ family shots.

The kids just love them….NOT!

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After an hour of exploring on our own,

we met up with our homeschool group and our education guide,

who would be with us for the day.

After a discussion about the dam and why we need it,

our guide sent the children into the information centre to search for information about 5 things.

1) How long is the dam wall?

2) How high is the dam wall?

3) How does the dam operate?

4) The name of a special fish that lives in the dam

5) Why that fish is special?

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The children hunted around the centre

and discovered that the dam wall is 2.3km long and 50m high.

They watched a video about how the dam works.

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Then they found the lungfish.

(Isn’t it ugly?!  And this fella is just a baby.

On average, they grow up to about a metre in length.)

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It’s special because it has an unusual swim bladder that allows it to breath air

when it is unable to breath using its gills.

That’s kinda cool.

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After the children reported their findings,

the group headed down to the banks of the dam

to do some water quality testing.

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They received their instructions and supplies

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and then found their own locations

to begin testing.

First they collected some macro-organisms from the water

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to examine and identify.

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This little fellow is a water snail.

He’s a very tolerant fellow and is happy to live in dirty water.

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I think this fellow is our mayfly nymph

and he’s a very sensitive fellow,

who hates dirty water,

which told us that the dam water was lovely and clean.

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Once the children had finished investigating the critters,

they turned their attention to the water itself.

First, the boys tested the turbidity of the water.

Even at the top of the tube, they could still see the cross on the bottom of the tube,

which told them that the water was clear.

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Then the boys collected samples of water

added their testing tablets,

and measured the level of dissolved oxygen, the pH levels and the phosphate levels.

All of the children’s results showed that the dam water is in very good shape.

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After the water testing, our guide explained the purpose of the auxiliary spillway

which was located beside the information centre

where we had gathered.

Apparently it’s like a fuse plug.

If the water gets too high, the middle section of the auxiliary spillway

(it goes first and is then possibly followed by the others)

erodes away and releases the excess water

that threatens the integrity of the whole dam.

During the 2011 flood crisis, the dam waters were only 70cm from eroding that middle section.

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Before leaving Wivenhoe Dam, our guide showed us a Whistling Kite nest up in a tree.

A Whistling Kite is a bird of prey so, after eating, there are lots of bones and feathers and such to be disposed of.

But these birds do not drop their rubbish beneath their nest.

That would attract goannas to their babies in the nest.

Instead, the Whistling Kite takes all of their rubbish and disposes of it in the same place

away from their nest.

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Our guide took us to the Whistling Kite’s rubbish dumb

and the kids found all sorts of fascinating (gross) things.

Bones, skulls, jaws,

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and plenty of pellets

– that’s the fur or feathers that the bird of prey vomits up after a meal!

(There’s always something terribly gross to be found on my blog.)

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And how do you follow up a discussion of vomited up pellets?

With lunch of course.

We left the dam just before lunch and drove to Mt Crosby

and enjoyed lunch in a park across the road from the water treatment plant.

The tour through the Water Treatment plant was really interesting.

I mean, how often do you get to do this kind of thing.

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The rules inside the plant were quite stringent.

The children had to obey instructions immediately

and everyone had to walk inside the blue lines at all times.

(See, children don’t need 12 years of institutional schooling to learn these things.)

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How our water is treated is really quite interesting.

It’s sucked up out of the Mt Crosby Weir

(I finally understand what a weir is!)

and filtered through this big brown ‘inlet screen’.

There are two.  One is in use while the other is cleaned.

These filters catch the really big stuff – leaves, twigs etc.

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The first stage in the water treatment process

involves adjusting the pH levels by adding Caustic Soda

(if necessary; and in order to help the next process).

Then aluminum sulphate, a coagulant, is added to the water.

It makes the dirt and gunk clump together

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into what they call a ‘floc’.

Isn’t it gross?!

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As the flocs get heavier,

they sink and settle to the bottom of the sedimentation tanks.

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That lovely sludge is then ‘vacuumed’ up

by this big vacuum system that slowly rolls down the tank.

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Then water is pumped into a building

where the water is further clarified

through the process of dissolved air filtration.

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Air is released into the tanks at the bottom of the pool

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and as it rises to the top,

it brings with it even more gross stuff.

Doesn’t it look like sea foam from the beach?!

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This ‘foamy grossness’ sloshes over the end of the pool

leaving behind even cleaner water

but still not clean enough to drink.

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The remaining water is then dropped down through a sand filter

to remove any remaining impurities.

Of course, they’ve only removed the dirt and organic matter.

The water is still full of micro-organisms.

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These pipes are beneath the indoor pools

and it is down here (I think)

that the water is disinfected with chlorine,

the pH is corrected with Lime

and the fluoride is added (for our teeth).

(Later, at the water reservoir, they add Chloramine – a combo of Chlorine and Ammonia

– to make sure nothing new can grow as it travels along the pipes to our homes)

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So now the water is drinkable,

but we mustn’t forget the sludge that was removed from the water.

It is also treated.

These are sludge thickening tanks.

They add a chemical to make the sludge once again sink to the bottom,

separating it further from the wastewater.

The wastewater can then be sent back through the treatment plant

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while the remaining muddy sludge

is pumped to a centrifuge tank (hard to see in this picture)

to remove even more water

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and the almost water-free mud cakes plop out of the tank

to be scooped up and left in the drying pans

before being scattered over land.

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And that’s the process of how ‘clean’ water gets to your taps.

So what do you reckon.

Does it make you feel better or worse about what comes out of your taps?!

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(The Up A Dry Gully website has a brilliant virtual tour

of both the dam and the water treatment plants,

as well as other water-related locations.)



Posted by on September 12, 2016 in Field Trips, Science, Technology