Platypus : The Great Divide

Two raindrops fall side by side, slightly compressed spheres tumbling from the sky. One of these raindrops will arrive in the Southern Ocean just near Goolwa, the other in the Pacific Ocean via Pitwater; half a continent apart.




Like the torn edge of a piece of paper, the Great Dividing Range zig zags a couple of 100km inland from the NSW coastline. Along this line there are no great flowing rivers, this is the start of the catchments, those little drops become trickles, the trickles flowing into small creeks then smaller rivers, until finally into the major rivers of Australia.

Not only does this line represent the Great Divide for water, but also the great dividing line for ecosystems. It is a very fragile boundary.

Living solitary lifestyles, the platypus usually reside a couple of kilometres apart from each other, traveling only around 3km from their burrows mainly foraging for food, they can however, travel further when necessary. With dwindling numbers, and such small travel distances, inbreeding in platypus populations often occurs. The genetic pool size is likely linked to the ease of navigation they have between each other. This is why this Great Dividing line is so important. For platypus to have access to an increased gene pool, they must be able to cross that line on occasion. We should not be putting hurdles in their way.

Navigating and feeding for 12 hours a day, the platypus finds its food by electroreceptors. Swimming and scooping up food and pebbles in its bill with its eyes closed, the platypus relies on those electroreceptors to navigate. The pebbles grind the food, as the platypus doesn’t have teeth.

Dams and physical barriers make it more challenging for platypuses to travel, making it harder to connect with others for breeding. Pumps and machinery act as inhibitors for their navigation, filling their sensitive receptors with white noise, confusing and disrupting their foraging.

Unlike the raindrops that are destined to be half a continent apart, the platypus has a chance, it can traverse the boundary in need. Placing dams on the edge of this fragile boundary makes this journey measurably harder. This will impede their genetic diversity and lead to inbreeding and decreased platypus population.



have you ever wondered why we dream and what they mean?

As her weary head laid upon the silk pillowcase and the stars danced outside her window, her mind wandered into the colourful abyss which was her imagination. Exhaustion overcame reality and quietly she slipped into a reverie. And until the morning broke, here she would remain; in a world of her own creation.  




By Jorja Suga, 13


Dreams. The stories that our minds design while we sleep. Despite humans generally remembering only 5% of dreams, this universal semi-conscious experience can be awkward, romantic, frightening, enjoyable, entertaining and sometimes perplexing. But, how and why do dreams occur and what exactly do they mean?


Dreams can occur at any time during sleep, but the most vivid dreams predominantly occur in the fifth stage of sleep, called REM sleep. This stands for ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ when heart rate rises, blood pressure increases and eyes jerk rapidly.


Neuroscientists have spent years researching dreams, how and why they occur and whether or not they have anything to do with our life in the conscious world. Sigmund Freud, a famous Austrian Neuroscientist quoted that “Every dream will reveal itself as a psychological structure, full of significance”.


Although scientists know what dreams are, nobody really knows why we dream, however there are plenty of theories to go by. For example, some neuroscientists would say that dreams are unconscious wishes and/or desires that we have for the real world, whereas other scientists may say that dreams are a way to relax the mind and process the information and events from the previous day.


One major discovery in Neuroscience, in terms of dreams, is that all dreams are based on one of two types of memories. These are autobiographical memories which are long-lasting memories about the person and episodic memories which are about specific events or episodes in the person’s real life. Generally, most dreams are based on autobiographical or personal long-lasting memories.


Dreams are not only influenced by our personal experiences, but by many other factors including age, gender and sleep disorders. Generally, younger people are more likely to experience their dreams in colour and are also more likely to remember more details of their dreams when they wake up. On the other hand, older people are not expected to see their dreams in colour often and they are more likely to struggle with remembering key details in their dreams, after they wake up. Weirdly, however, the difference in dreams between males and females were not very obvious, with the only major variation being that females generally have more family members, children and babies in their dreams, whereas males are often by themselves. People who have sleeping disorders such as insomnia and narcolepsy, often have dreams that have more of a negative tone, when compared to people without any sleeping disorders.


As technology develops, major discoveries about dreams have increased in the last few years. In 2013, Japanese scientists started ‘reading’ dreams using MRI scans of the brain with approximately 60% accuracy. This Japanese study has expanded as scientists begin to question whether they can not only read what the dreams are, but experience the emotions that the person asleep is feeling and improve the accuracy of the tests.


I wonder how long it will be until scientists know why we really dream and what they really mean?





what would it look like if we lived in a black and white world?

At just the right time of day, into the room through a tiny hole in the blinds shone a bright ray of light. Cascading into the space, a stream of white light. His curiosity overcame him, and placing a prism at the end of this streak all of a sudden, the light shattered and a coloured image of the sun was projected across the wall. A rainbow.




This man was Newton, although after observing the glint of rainbow upon his wall two theories still faced him. Either the white light was pure and the prism used polluted the light thus producing the colours or, the white light was being split into the colours. Despite the latter being more controversial as white light was thought to be pure, it ended up being true. 


But in order to solve this question he decided to do something no one before him had. Newton placed a second prism in the path of one of the colours produced from the original ray. If it was a result of the prism, another rainbow would be displayed. But another rainbow was not to be seen. The blue remained blue and the red remained red.


Humanity has always been intrigued with colour, the way we use it and how it is involved in our everyday life. However, its implication in our life goes much deeper than simply choosing a favourite colour. Colour has also been employed to explain the process of understanding and forming knowledge, for example we consider the thought experiment originally put forward by Frank Jackson. Mary is a scientist who is an expert in colour, the understanding of how colour works and how we perceive colour, however, she has spent her entire life in a black and white room. Now the question is, if she was to come out of the room into a colour world, would she have “learnt” anything new. The argument here being it is impossible to have just a physical knowledge of the world, there exists a necessity to have experienced it as well.


This idea of the necessity of experiencing colour is highlighted by Iliad and Odyssey written by Greek poet Homer paints an interesting example of this and prompts us to question the perception and origins of colour. In these famous texts, his utilisation of language is peculiar, describing “black blood” and “wine dark sea”, being two of the many unexplainable uses of colour description. But upon reading these books, his excessive use of black and white quickly becomes apparent being found about 170 and 100 times respectively. But then something really strange happens. Red is mentioned only 13 times. Yellow, under 10. Green, also under 10. But if you search for blue, you will not find it.


Now, it may be a little far-fetched to suggest he lived in a black and white world but if we think about it blue is in fact, a relatively rare colour in nature. Blue food? Blue animals? And a lot of our blue plants are in fact artificially made. In Homer’s time there was no purpose for the word ‘blue’ to exist, and so it didn’t. They would have still been able to see blue, however, it was not until it became categorised that it became a shared experience. Blue definitely existed, however, it was a product of our imagination until we could define it. 


Two linguists Berlin and Kay defined an evolution in the language we use to define colour, there is an order that colours are added to languages. If a language has just 2 colours, these will be black and white. If a language has 3, then the next added will be red. If it has 4 then it will be black, white, red, and either green or yellow (but not both) and then if the language has 5 it will be black, white, red, green and yellow. This by extension maps to the necessity of colour being used to describe objects as the defining factor of its existence in a language.


These peculiar beginnings of colour are particularly interesting to consider, but can be extended into other questions. Once we give something a name, does it become easier or more difficult to explore. Does that simple act of classifying limit the knowledge we are capable of discovering because we have just put it ‘inside a box’? And does this necessity of experience in order to have knowledge make it appear different?



puffins. do we really need to say more?

That really irritating itch that you just can’t get. In the spot you can’t reach. When all hope seems lost and the satisfaction which should follow this action seems unattainable you realise something. Scratching sticks exist, finally a way to end the story in a content place. Ahhh, sweet satisfaction!




Puffins. As if their fluorescent beaks didn’t already make them awesome enough, researchers have now found evidence and added them to the notoriously short list of tool users. Amongst species such as chimpanzees and dolphins, this is very significant for not only for puffins, but also potentially for other sea birds who have previously been thought to lack the necessity of tool usage.


What makes this discovery potentially peculiar is their sweet use of these tools for something other than common usages such as food foraging, which is usually the first instance in which a species would employ an external device. Instead, it was to solve the situation presented earlier, to cure an insatiable itch. This low importance and yet incredibly pleasant task is an intriguing behaviour of the puffin and begs many further questions.


In the research paper, a tool user is defined as, “the exertion of control over a freely manipulable external object (the tool) with the goal of (1) altering the physical properties of another object, substance, surface or medium (the target, which may be the tool user or another organism) via a dynamic mechanical interaction, or (2) mediating the flow of information between the tool user and the environment or other organisms in the environment.


They have been observed in two different locations, Wales and Iceland, performing this same action and astounding scientists which suggests it is an instinctive quality of the species and not randomly occurring. Their usage is particularly special as tool usage is observed in less than 1% of known genera and whilst being known in other birds during captivity, is much less commonly found in natural habitats.


This discovery is not only another amazing addition for the puffin’s already impressive CV, but also prompts further questioning and research into the behaviour of tool usage and its display in certain species of animals. What this means for the future of the puffin and other birds, we may not know yet but one thing is certain – they are content and the future is as bright as their fluorescent beaks under a UV light.


 sourced from: 


known as the blood of stone, what does it smell like?

The arid land began to stir as a familiar and yet nostalgic scent filled the air. Leaves swayed in the wind and wildlife scurried in search of shelter, but she welcomed it like a friend not seen for a lifetime. With the clouds hanging, the sky gave a low rumble as its promise drifted across the sky. Taking one last, thankful breath in, she walked through the door only to look back through the fly screen at her land – a land which was finally seeing rain.


CSIRO is Australia’s national science agency, responsible for countless inventions which have changed our lifestyle and advanced society. If I were to ask you what their greatest invention was, what would you choose?

Would it be WIFI, which has fulfilled our insatiable need for instant gratification? Or maybe hologram embedded polymer banknotes, which allow us to be lazier when checking our pockets before throwing clothes in the washing machine? (Did you know their first one was a $7 note prototype?!) 

Or perhaps it would be their extensive and ever growing knowledge of radio astronomy which continues to excite proud nerds like myself. Or Aeroguard, a necessity on any Australian camping trip, or family barbecue, or bush walk… or honestly anytime you want to venture into the Aussie outdoors – which was originally designed to repel mosquitos to protect Australian troops during the second world war!

These are all reasonable and commendable efforts which under any other circumstance would take the ‘top position’, however, when I consider these all next to one word they quickly become irrelevant. CSIRO gave us the word Petrichor

Petrichor is the pleasant aroma we smell when rain hits what was a parched land, and CSIRO gave us the word for it. It is derived from two greek roots, petra meaning stone and ichor which in Greek mythology is the ethereal blood of the gods – this smell was thus named the blood of the stone.

Oils from plants are excreted and land upon the earth and then adsorbed by soil and rocks so, when the rain falls this oil is released alongside Geosmin which is an organic compound produced by some actinobacteria. All of these little occurrences, culminate to the earthy aroma we define as petrichor.

Although an interesting note, is that these oils in fact hinder germination and plant growth as found in later research by Bear and Thomas. This smell which represents the hope of many farmers and Australians nationwide, ironically also limits future plant growth. 

Published in BEAR, I., THOMAS, R. Nature of Argillaceous Odour. Nature 201, 993–995 (1964).


“a great scientist possesses not only the ability to identify patterns but also to endlessly question these, in an effort to attain the most base level truth.” 

We stood, just in the lab, and I remember sort of standing there. I remember looking at it and just thinking, ‘Ah! This could be very big. This looks just right.’ It had a pattern to it. There was a regularity to it. There was something that was not just sort of garbage there, and that was really kind of coming through, even though we look back at it now, we’d say, technically, there was this, that and the other, but it was a pattern shining through, and it just had this sort of sense, ‘There’s something real here.’. 

But then, of course, the good scientist has to be very sceptical and immediately say, ‘Okay, we’re going to test this every way around here, and really nail this one way or the other.’ If it’s going to be true, you have to make sure that it’s true, because you can get a lot of false leads, especially if you’re wanting something to work.


This was the moment she knew it was right, the moment she knew they had just discovered something amazing. And for this instant, Elizabeth Blackburn remains nearly 120 years following its inception, the sole female Australian to be a recipient of the Nobel Prize.

Elizabeth and her team researched telomere’s which are repetitive structures found at the end of chromosomes. The three main purposes are, help to organise, protect the end, allow to be replicated during cell divisions. They are a bit like the plastic tip on the end of shoelaces (aglet!), this prevents the chromosomes sticking to others however, each time the cell divides it loses some of the telomere’s. This is similar to when you use your shoe lace too many times and it begins to fray at the ends.

What makes these tiny structures important to you and me, is their responsibility in the ageing process. When DNA replicates itself, some of the string of telomere’s ‘falls off’ eventually reaching a critical point where the DNA is no longer capable of reproducing itself – resulting in an aged cell.

Blackburn was able to recognise this but more interestingly discovered an enzyme, Telomerase, which is capable of conserving this process and reforming these sequences. This action allows cells to continue their multiplying and avoiding ageing. This research could potentially also have significant applications in cancer treatment as it is found in incredibly high concentrations within these cells. This is the mechanism which enables tumours to divide and grow at rapid rates instead of reaching the same critical point. If there is low levels of telomerase, the cells will die however otherwise the cells will fix themselves, like the aglet preserves a shoelace. If the telomerase disappears, then the cell’s will die.

What I love about her description of the discovery is it highlights the creative brilliance of some scientists, “It had a pattern to it”, shows the innate ability to identify patterns in complexity, which is what only the most creative of scientists can achieve. This skill, before even collecting any data, to instinctively identify the link and that which has been previously missing will forever be astounding.

The tempering of this with “If it’s going to be true, you have to make sure that it’s true” shows the structure and process that true scientists exhibit – rather than trying to prove herself right, she was dedicated to prove herself wrong. To find the hole, the gap, and as each plausible alternative theory disappeared she gathered evidence to show how vital Telomerase is into the conservation of cellular division and preventing the rapid loss of genetic information and cellular ageing.

Often as scientists we forget in our efforts to attain a goal the purpose of science has always been to falsify. We lack the capacity to prove something correct, only incorrect – and that is why even the most famous scientists produce theories instead of ‘fact’. This is not a reflection of the research quality but rather defined by the foundation on which true science is built. The mark of a great scientist is perseverance, the dedication of going to all possible lengths to prove themselves incorrect, in order to eventually suggest a plausible theory.

A great scientist possesses not only the ability to identify patterns but also to endlessly question these, in an effort to attain the most base level truth. Curiosity driven and persistent exploration defined Blackburn’s work, and this ethic which she has left us with continues to inspire fellow young Australian girls to pursue their STEM endeavours in the footsteps of a truly great scientist.