Scientists at Play: Curiosity and Creativity

By Anita Brown, UNE Discovery Voyager


After a socially distanced virus-altered year, the Discover Voyager team is back on the road and it’s feeling vaguely normal. On 1 March we headed out to small schools in the Taree and Gloucester regions. When on the road we love to explore a little and get our science-play hats on. With a few hours up our sleeve, the team headed out to Wallabi Point, near Taree. The task: slow down, explore, notice, wonder, question and play.

Some would argue that we spend too much time taking photos, particularly on our mobile phones. But what I’m finding, is that having the tools to capture an image, a moment in time, allows me to focus and become immersed in my surroundings. I have a desire to record what captivates, amuses, delights or puzzles me, and communicate that to others, or simply celebrate what life and time has delivered.

So we headed along a track, the four of us, and only moments in, the rocky beach drew us and we stepped off the path, passing the bushfire-reminding charcoaled stump.

Soon the vast skies and the broad vistas narrowed, and our vision focused on the rocks and wonders beneath our feet. Our resident geologist, Dr Kieran Meaney, was on hand to identify and tell us stories about the rocks which called out, “Look at me! Aren’t I pretty? I’m unusual, I’m very old, wanna know how I got here?” Some of those rocks, pumice, had travelled the seas all the way from New Zealand, after spewing out of an angry volcano. Others had pressed up against and folded with rock-friends to create elongated stripey formations. The names of all those eye-catching rocky remnants haven’t quite embedded in my brain but the sense and appreciation of their history, their uniqueness and beauty are captured and remain. So here are a few, an exhibition if you like. (Kudos to Kieran for filling us in on the science and history of each piece of art.)

Exhibit 1:Honeycomb weathering: a handy round-holed collectibles shelf

Tiny salt crystals grow in the pores of the rock. As they grow, they break off surrounding pieces of rock, creating holes which resemble honeycomb.

Exhibit 2: Weather painted sandstone: a colourful cuboid display shelf

When the green minerals in this rock break down they release iron which turns orange in the elements …. a rusting rock!

Exhibit 3: Laminite: long-ages nature-crafted pillar

Layers of sandstone and shale

Exhibit 4: Rock painting: time-transformed self-portrait

Over time the green minerals in this rock oxidise and turn red, then break away to create cool patterns.

Exhibit 5: The photographer’s whimsy: trapeze across a canyon (in miniature)

Seaweed drapes itself across a rock-created space, a place for sea sprites to play.

Scientists at play

Our time spent in marvelling at earth’s offerings was time (clich d I know) well-spent. We played in different ways. While I zoomed in on details, noting artistic elements, Imogen frolicked in lukewarm rock pools, Phil walked the beach and Kieran delighted in formations and folds, forever engrossed in earth’s stories. This is the stuff that feeds us as scientists and educators to remain connected, curious and creative, and to prepare us for the work that we love.