Helix @ CSIRO

For kids who love science

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Gold test for diabetes

Structure of insulin

A computer-generated image of insulin, the chemical that allows sugar to enter your cells.
Image: CSIRO Science Image

Researchers have made a cheap and rapid new test to diagnose type 1 diabetes using a gold-studded glass chip. 

Each day, around 280 Australians are diagnosed with diabetes. There are many different types of diabetes, and they are all connected by insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas, an organ located behind your stomach. It controls how much sugar gets from your blood into the muscles and other cells of the body. Both insulin and sugar are needed to give your cells energy, so diabetes can be very dangerous.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which means the body is attacking itself. The immune system creates antibodies that target cells in the pancreas, causing damage that stops it making insulin. On the other hand, in type 2 diabetes the body does not attack itself with antibodies, but either the pancreas is damaged by another way, or the muscles and other cells have stopped responding to insulin.

When someone has diabetes, it is not always easy for doctors to know whether it is type 1 or type 2. The test is to look at their blood for the pancreas-targeting antibodies found in type 1 diabetes. This test is quite slow and expensive. Faster and cheaper tests just weren’t sensitive enough to detect antibodies. To overcome this problem, a team from Stanford University in the USA used nanotechnology. Continue reading

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Make a snowflake!

You will need

an arrow pointing to a corner of a folded piece of paper.

The ‘centre corner’ is where the creases meet.

  • Thin paper
  • Scissors

What to do

  1. Fold the paper in quarters.
  2. Your folded piece of paper has two folded sides and two unfolded sides. The folded sides meet at a corner – call this the ‘middle corner’.
  3. Imagine dividing the middle corner into three equal angles. You could measure it with a protractor, but it doesn’t need to be accurate. Fold along the two imaginary lines that trisect your corner.
    Continue reading

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Australia’s largest Aboriginal ochre mine

Brendan Hamlett at Yallabilli Mindi

Brendan Hamlett at Yallabilli Mindi.
Image: Annie Carson

It’s National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week. What better time to celebrate a shared research project between the Wajarri people and the University of Western Australia!

Australia’s largest Aboriginal ochre mine is Wilgie Mia. In Wajarri Yamatji country far north of Perth, it is an incredibly important cultural heritage site. Red, yellow and green ochres from the mine have been traded across the country for many thousands of years.

It’s said that ochre from Wilgie Mia was traded across Western Australia into the Kimberley, the Pilbara, down to the south coast and into neighbouring states. Red and yellow ochres are still an important part of Indigenous Australian cultures today.

This week, three young Wajarri men are visiting the University of Western Australia to work alongside archeologist Vicky Winton. Together, they are studying samples from several new sites near Wilgie Mia. Continue reading

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Spot the rice

Safety: Donate this rice to maths. Don’t eat the black grains.

You will need

Rice, marker, scales, container, calculator.

You will need these items.

  • 1 kg rice
  • Large jar, big enough to hold all the rice
  • Electronic scales
  • Plastic container
  • Marker
  • Calculator

Calculate the mass of a grain of rice

  1. Weigh out exactly 10 g of rice.
  2. Count the number of grains of rice you weighed out. Count again to make sure. Continue reading

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Lionfish hunting party


Lionfish wave their big side fins before a group hunt.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Jens Petersen

In the warm tropical ocean around the Great Barrier Reef, the lionfish hunts. Venomous fins fan out to trap a school of smaller fish. The little fish look for an escape. But this lionfish is not hunting alone.

As we grow up, we learn to share, take turns and cooperate. Now it seems lionfish use the same skills for a more deadly purpose. New research shows lionfish hunt better when they cooperate with other lionfish, and that they share the meal evenly.

Lionfish are predators and use their long, stripy fins to corner prey. While working on the Great Barrier Reef, Oona Lönnstedt from James Cook University in Queensland noticed something strange. “I did a lot of observations at night and this is when I noticed how they seemed to hunt together in groups, spreading out their large pectoral (side) fins almost like fishermen with their nets”

Curious about the behaviour, Oona went back to the lab and used a maze-like aquarium to observe how lionfish behaved when there was prey around and a second lionfish nearby.
Continue reading

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Silken surgery

Silkworm cocoons

There are many uses for silk from the cocoons of silkworms.
Image: Thinkstock

Written by Celia Berrell

A one-kilometre
single thread
each silkworm spins
as a cocoon bed.

That protein-filled strand,
untangled and long,
makes fine-woven fabrics
so light, yet strong.

Surgery too
has discovered silk’s riches.
Incredibly thin
for dissolvable stitches. Continue reading


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