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National Science Week  Queensland Blog

National Science Week Queensland Blog

Big Science Now - connecting students and science.
This is an initiative of National Science Week Queensland.
Whitsunday Anglican School student Rachelle Patman designed our avatar. She won an iPad 2 in our design competition.
Thanks to All Hallows' School's Science Club for appearing in our video promo.
Thanks also to St Aidan's Anglican Girls' School's award-winning cheese makers for participating in the Ekka cheese making video.
Produced by Lisa Yallamas.

Science Week means croc trip for Australia Zoo

Every August I look forward to the buzz surrounding Science Week, and if you are reading this you must be someone who gets excited by science too!

 August is also exciting for us here at Australia Zoo for another reason, as it is the month that various members of the Zoo crew head up to the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve in far north Queensland to get their croc on!  We are part of a team conducting the latest research on into our favourite reptile, the Estuarine Crocodile, otherwise known as the Saltwater Crocodile... but since we’re celebrating Science Week, let’s call them Crocodylus porosus.

Steve Irwin’s crocodile catching expertise was honed in the 1980s, helping Queensland Parks and Wildlife to locate and capture crocodiles that might have posed a safety risk to the human residents of croc country.  Once captured, these crocodiles were relocated to other river systems or to Steve’s parents’ Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park in Beerwah, Queensland. 

As the years passed the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park became Australia Zoo, and we had formed a close relationship with like-minded scientists from The University of Queensland.  Now our annual trips to north yield some fascinating insights into one of our favourite reptiles, adding to the wealth of knowledge called science. 

Incredible underwater abilities

One of the first things we discovered was just how long crocodiles could stay underwater.  We already knew that crocodiles could stay submerged for long periods of time.  We had seen any number of crocodiles who, upon arrival to their new home at the Zoo, would disappear under the water in their ponds and not be seen for weeks.  Of course, crocodiles are so well adapted to not being seen it was tough for us to know when and where they would pop their nasal disc above the surface to refresh their supply of oxygen, but we knew they must do it.  So it came more as an “I knew it!” kind of moment when the data showed us that crocodiles could stay submerged for up to three hours. 

Of course, how crocodiles can dive for such long periods of time is another question.

Still more impressive

The data collected from wild crocodiles hasn’t just measured crocs’ vertical position within the water through time (which gave us the dive data).  Using satellite technology it was possible to map how the crocodiles used the two dimensions that you and I are more familiar with as well.  This data showed us that, in addition to moving up and down river systems, crocodiles swam out into the open ocean, and from there, even into other river systems.  Most significantly it showed that animals which had been relocated to other river systems had no problem finding their way back to the system where they were originally caught.  There was even one crocodile, captured in a river on the western side of Cape York, which, after being transported overland to the eastern side, took a 350km trip out to sea (around Cape York), back to his original river system!  This information meant a massive rethink of how populations of wild crocodiles and people could coexist.

Of course, how crocodiles achieve these homing feats is yet another question.

Taking it easy

With the data recording techniques pioneered by The University of Queensland and our crocodile catching skills, we’ve been able to continually build on our knowledge of the movements of wild crocodiles.  The data from more recent trips has given us an insight as to how crocodiles move around their environment.  Dive data have shown us that when the surface current of a river is going the opposite direction to that which the crocodile wants to go, the croc will either clamber onto the river bank, or sink to the bottom of the river, holding onto the substrate.  And when the direction of the current is going the same direction the crocodile wants to travel it will float along, letting the water do most of the work!  The crocs aren’t in a rush.  Given that they can live for over 100 years and can go months at a time without food, crocs have all the time in the world.  There is even data to suggest that they use the same technique out at sea.  What an incredible animal.

Of course, how crocodiles know whether the current will take them where they want to go is another question.


As I write this, most of our croc boys have headed north again, to catch up with UQ’s field scientists at the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve to affix new data loggers and tracking devices to more crocodiles.  I wonder what will be discovered this year.  We sure aren’t short of questions.

- Nick.



The science of wound healing

You might think of a wound as a cut or scratch that just needs a bandage and a few weeks to heal. If so, you’ve obviously been lucky enough to never have had a chronic wound.

Chronic wounds are injuries to the skin that fail to heal. They include pressure ulcers, diabetic foot ulcers, and ulcers on the lower legs caused by poor circulation. They can take months or even years to heal.

Over 400,000 people are suffering from chronic wounds on any given day in Australia, a number that is increasing with ageing and diabetes,” Dr Dianne Smith, President of Australian Wound Management Australia (AWMA) QLD, said.

“Wound management also represents a significant financial burden as treatment for long-term and chronic wounds is not often funded under existing healthcare schemes.”

Chronic wounds cost approximately $10,000 per patient to treat, which translates to around $3 billion per year for the country as a whole.

AWMA QLD and the Wound Innovation Co-operative Research Centre are researching ways to treat and prevent chronic wounds.

One of the treatments developed at the Wound Innovation CRC was showcased at an international biotechnology conference in June in Boston.

The treatment, VitroGro® ECM, is applied directly on to complex, difficult-to-heal wounds to create a favourable environment for healing. It has produced remarkable results in human trials to date and will be launched into the European market later this year.

This and other developments, as well as prevention tips, will be shared at a special National Science Week event.

The Science of Wound Healing will run from 8:30am to 4:30pm on August 11 at the Innovation Centre Auditorium at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

It is open to researchers, clinicians and the general public. For more information and to register, please see




National Science Week Queensland 2012

by Queensland Chief Scientist, Dr Geoff Garrett AO


Protecting the magnificent Great Barrier Reef, discovering cures for chronic disease, ensuring food and water security for a growing population, protecting Australia’s unique biodiversity, managing the future of our natural resources, understanding the universe…

When it comes to science, Queensland seriously punches above its weight. Our world-class researchers are contributing significantly to international solutions for some of the world’s biggest problems.

In just one month, Queensland will shine a spotlight on and celebrate all things science during National Science Week, held from the 11 - 19 August. Every state and territory will be showcasing their science, and as the home of advances like the world’s first cancer vaccine, Queensland has a wealth of interesting activities and resources to brag about.

This blog, along with the Twitter stream @BigScienceNow, are great ways to keep up with what is happening in Queensland for National Science Week, as well as other science news and fun facts.

From Cairns in the north, to Longreach in the west and south to the Gold Coast, there’s a fun science event near you. Get involved!


iRat Lingodroids visit Year 2s at Sherwood

iRats are robots with ideas that they can communicate. They can make a date with each other to meet in a particular place - once they know where they both know where that particular place is.

A team at the University of Queensland's Information Technology and Engineering Department are developing these Lingodroids. 

National Science Week brought one of the researchers, Dr Dan Angus, to the Ekka to talk with Speculative Fiction writer, Charlotte Nash, about how science fiction inspires science.

Dr Dan, as he was dubbed by the event compere UQ science & communication student Carl Smith, explained how most of his work with computers and robots is inspired by nature so really nature inspires science fiction as well as science.

Bees and ants have secrets that he - and other researchers - try to learn to solve difficult organizational and navigation problems.  For instance, have you ever stopped to think how something you buy on the internet overseas arrives on your doorstep?

Dr Dan explains how the way bees pack their honey in a hive helps solve the dilemma of packing shipping containers - check out the video on our Does Sci-Fi Inspire Science Channel.

When you shop on the internet, your item may end up in a shipping container and that shipping container may be one of thousands loaded onto a ship. So what happens it the ship stops in Brisbane and your container is at the bottom of the pile and the ship's next port is Sydney? They would have to unload all the containers to get the Brisbane crate off and then load all the Sydney crates back up? 

"Because bees are good at organizing things like their honey we look for those kinds of solutions they make to inspire solutions here," Dr Dan said. 

But when it comes to programming a computer to schedule trains, like in Japan, scientists look to ants, he says. 

"Ants can actually find a shortcut through networks really, really well and we use this to inspire systems that can solve these kinds of transport problems," he said.

Dr Dan also explains the process of making idea maps in order to teach a robot how to communicate. Robots with ideas actually think for themselves but,SEO New Zealand he warns, it's a long way to go yet before they take over the world like in science fiction movies such as The Matrix or Terminator.