Science is Everywhere

The non-scientist science communicator gets excited

This year I’ve been so excited to don a lab coat and help with Voyager’s newly rejigged Creative Chemistry activity. One of the opening questions we ask the primary students is, “What did you have for breakfast?” This leads to follow up questions such as, “Is raisin toast chemicals?”, “Are eggs chemicals?”, “Are you chemicals?”, “Is your lovely teacher chemicals?” and the lightbulb moment that EVERYTHING IS MADE OF CHEMICALS! How cool is that? The question of whether chemicals are good or bad is explored and the conclusion made that chemicals are both good and bad, the lovely teacher is good, and chemicals, which might be flagged as dangerous, can have useful purposes. Drain cleaner might be dangerous (bad!) but when used properly it does a good job of cleaning a drain.

The author excitedly dons protective wear to pose with the real scientist, Voyager presenter Kieran Meaney

The idea that chemicals are everywhere expands my appreciation of, well, everything. Recently, having passed Mount Yarrowyck Nature Reserve many times in the Voyager van, I decided it was high time that I made a special trip to the reserve. I was particularly interested in viewing the cave paintings of the Anaiwan people. As my partner and I walked along the track, we discussed how having some knowledge of plants and bird-life enhanced our appreciation of the natural environment, but we really needed to deepen our understanding of geology. How and when had those hills formed? What kind of rock were they formed from? What type of soil were we walking on? And… what were the chemical properties of the soil and rocks?

Aboriginal cave paintings, Mount Yarrowyck Nature Reserve

I reckon the more we understand the story of our natural environment, the greater our appreciation of what we see and the more invested we can be in preserving and taking care of our world. Some of us learn through reading or studying. Others are switched on by watching films and videos. Asking questions of an expert, if you happen to have one handy, is a great way to learn. Our newest team member, Dr Kieran Meaney, is an expert on all things geological. He and I have just started working on developing a geology performance and hands-on-activity to roll out to schools in 2020. He provides all of the expertise and I have the joy of crafting a syllabus-linked performance. I love that in this process I get to learn so much about different types of rock and the clues they provide to the history of the earth.

“So Kieran”, I asked, “when the Voyager team were in Warialda in June, we visited Cranky Rock. It was amazing! Can you please explain to me briefly how and when these incredible rock formations were made?”

“Well Anita,” Kieran replied, “did you not read the information provided at the site?”

Whoops! He had a point. I had read the information board about how Cranky Rock got its name, a grizzly legend (which you can search for on the internet dear reader) but I had failed to read the adjacent sign. I had been too gobsmacked by the beauty of the boulders basking in the late afternoon sunlight as well as the tranquil silence only found in the heart of the bush.

Reflections at Cranky Rock, via Warialda
Reflections at Cranky Rock, via Warialda

I took Kieran’s lack of a definitive response as a challenge and here’s what I found:

The outcrop of boulders known as Cranky Rock is composed of Late Permian age Dumboy- Gragin Granite which is approximately 245 million years old. These boulders are called tors. What appears to be the stacking of boulders one atop another is actually the result of millions of years of weathering eroding the joints between slabs of rock, leaving rounded tors which will eventually topple.


245 million years old! Wow! Mmmm….but what is granite?. Thankfully Dr Kieran had provided me with an explanation of the composition of granite.

Granite: IGNEOUS rock made from magma that crystallised underground (Plutonic Igneous). Often has a lot of grey/transparent quartz, white and pink feldspar, and black biotite or hornbende. Forms large round boulders in the landscape. Very common in New England.

Igneous? Magma? So much more research to be done. Oh my goodness, there had to have been a volcanic eruption there!

On my next walking adventure my eyes will be open to the solid and dusty natural formations, to the history and geology beneath my feet, as well as the biological and botanical wonders living in the soil and in the air.

– By Anita Brown, UNE Voyager program presenter