Soil Your Undies Challenge

Welcome to the Soil Your Undies Challenge, run in collaboration with UNE SMART Farms, CottonInfo and UNE Discovery. Check out our challenge journey below.

🩲 Are you ready to excavate your undies?

It is the time we have all been waiting for here at UNE. Our undies have been buried at  UNE’s SMART Farm, Kirby, for eight weeks and have (hopefully) become a feast for our soil microorganisms.

We buried our undies a little earlier than everyone else, so you might have a few more days to wait until the big reveal. Excavating the undies is a delicate procedure. Depending on the soil biota, your underpants may be very fragile and should be removed with care. We want to ensure we don’t rip or tear the undies as we remove the topsoil. Follow along with the Soil Your Undies Challenge collaborators as they explore how to carefully excavate our undies below.

So, what results can we gather from our burial? For our undies to break down effectively, we need a bit of heat to dry special soil components called enzymes, which help break different chemicals down into smaller chemicals. These enzymes that are made by the soil bacteria and fungi have to attach to our cotton to break it down. However, we also need something else that is really important – water. We haven’t had much rain at the SMART Farm recently, which has affected the activity of the enzymes.

After looking at our undies a little closer, we noticed some discolouration. This is where some of the soil biology has started to break down the cotton. More importantly, our undies had holes! This indicated that the microorganisms that make up our soil had completely broken down the cotton into special sugars they could use for food.

Are you ready to excavate your undies? In case you missed it, see the attachment below for a detailed outline of how to excavate and return your undies for analysis. We can’t wait to see your results!

Submit your photos here!
Download your excavation guide here!

🩲 Are you ready to bury your undies?

From today until the 15th of October is undie burial week! This is the all important time-frame in which we must bury our undies to ensure  we can exhume them before term 4 concludes. Check out the video below to hear from our challenge collaborators and explore how to bury your undies at home or school.

Download your burial guide here!

On World Cotton Day, also our burial day, the 7th October 2020, Australia’s cotton growers celebrate their industry and the natural fibre they grow.

There are up to 1,500 cotton farms in Australia, with the main production areas being central and southern Queensland, northern, central and southern NSW, northern Victoria and small areas of northern Queensland, northern Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Approximately 66% of Australia’s cotton is grown in NSW and 33% in Queensland.

Approximately 90% of Australia’s cotton businesses are family farms, producing about 80% of the crop. These families have often lived and worked in their communities for generations.

Discover more about World Cotton Day here

What’s it all about?

‘Soil Your Undies’ is a fun and engaging citizen science campaign run by UNE’s Dr Oliver Knox and CottonInfo that explores soil health and allows participants to share their experiences.

For the challenge, participants receive a pair of 100% white cotton undies to bury in topsoil for two months. After this time, the undies are retrieved, photographed and the level of decomposition recorded. If the undies have decomposed significantly, there is good biological activity. This indicates healthy soil! These same soil organisms that break down the cotton can break down plant materials in much the same way.

Working with UNE SMART Farms, we will be live streaming the degradation of our undies from one of the University’s rural properties, Kirby, so you’ll be able to see what is potentially happening to your undies underground – we know it’s hard not to take a sneak peek!

The challenge will also incorporate educational checkpoints, providing teachers with the resources to explore soil health with their students further. This is a fantastic opportunity for those at home or at school to learn about soils pH, temperature and moisture profiles, and how your soil breaks down cotton underpants!

For more information on the Soil Your Undies Campaign click here to head to their website.

What’s in the challenge pack?

Each challenge participant will be sent:

  • 1 pair of ‘Soil Your Undies’ approved cotton undies.
  • A challenge calendar outlining key dates and checkpoints.
  • A Soil Your Undies guide to burying the undies.
  • A challenge flag to mark the test site.
  • Digital activity sheets and teacher guides to undertake:
    • A pH test of the participants soil.
    • Soil texture experiments.
    • The great worm hunt.
  • A pH test kit.
  • A reply-paid postage pack to return the undies on completion of the challenge.
  • Any additional material that will help undertake the challenge.

There is no cost for participants to enter the challenge.


What can I win?

All challenge participants will go in the draw to win a participation prize, being a complimentary full-day visit from UNE Discovery Voyager and/or the UNE SMART Farms education team. Depending on the location of the winning individual/s, this may be a physical visit or an interactive virtual visit. Please see the Terms and Conditions below for a full description of the participation prize.

Who can enter?

Students from Kindergarten to Year 12, Australia wide! Homeschooler’s are also included in this. Registration for the challenge must be made by the teachers, parents or guardians of participating students.


When will the competition run?

Registrations for the challenge will open on 14 September at 9am and will close on 25 September at 5pm. The Soil Your Undies Challenge will run from the 12 October until 11 December. Throughout this time there will be educational checkpoints for students to undertake. The results of the challenge will be released on Friday 11 December. The prize, which will take the form of a virtual/physical visit to the winning entrant’s class or home, will be organised and undertaken when school returns in 2021. Participants will also have the opportunity to see all participants entries from January 2021.

Click the link below to see the Challenge Calendar and key dates.

Are you ready to Soil Your Undies?

View the calendar
Checkpoint 1: pH testing

Frequently asked questions

Can I use my own undies?

No, you must use the undies supplied by UNE. If any other undies are used in the challenge, registration will be void. This is to ensure participants entries are standardised, and allows results to be used for research.

Can I bury my undies for less or more than 8 weeks?

No, each challenge participant must bury their undies for a total of 8 weeks.

Do I have to undertake all the educational checkpoints to be considered for the participation prize?

No, you only have to participate in two of three educational checkpoints, and ensure you have photographs of your students undertaking these checkpoints for submission. Please see Terms and Conditions for further details.

If I have entered as part of my class, can I still enter as an individual?

Yes, but the burial site of your undies must be different to that of your classes.

What year level must I be in to participate in the challenge?

Students from Kindergarten to Year 12 are able to participate in the challenge. Home schooled children are also eligible to participate.

Am I really helping scientists by participating in the challenge?

Am I really helping scientists by participating in the challenge?

Do I have to return my undies to UNE?

Yes, your undies must be returned to UNE by the 22nd January 2021. This is to ensure undies can be analysed and results collated for research.

How many times can I register?

You can register as many times as you like, however each undie burial site must be at a different address. Duplicated submissions from the same address will be void.

What are teachers and parents involvement in the challenge?

Teacher’s and parent’s will act as registration representatives for their students and children, although they are also encouraged to play along and participate in the educational checkpoints with their young ones along the way!

Is there a maximum file size my photo submission can be?

Maximum file size is allowed 64MB.

What file types are supported for my submission?

Supported file types are .jpg, .png, and PDF.

Do I have to be from a certain part of Australia to enter?

No, entries are open to students from Kindergarten to Year 12, Australia wide!

Terms and conditions

This document outlines the Terms, Conditions and Methods for the UNE Discovery, UNE SMARTFarms and CottonInfo Soil Your Undies Challenge. These Guidelines comply with and fall under the laws of New South Wales, Australia.

Eligibility, Terms & Conditions

  1. The Soil Your Undies Challenge aims for broad engagement by students in all schools or at home across Australia from Kindergarten and Year 12.
  2. Teachers/educators or parents register their class of students or children to participate in the challenge. Entire classes will be considered as one entry into the competition. Classes can be of any size.
  3. Registering teachers/educators/parents will receive a digital and practical challenge package, with all necessary resources to undertake the challenge. ONLY the underpants supplied in this package must be used for the challenge. The challenge will be void if any other underpants are used.
  4. Schools may enter multiple classes into the challenge. One class is considered one independent entry. But multiple registrations within a single class are not permitted.
  5. A class is defined as a group of students within a school or other educational institution/group. These classes may be across multiple year levels.
  6. Homeschool groups may enter the challenge.
  7. It is the responsibility of the teacher/educator/parent to register their class/child and see the challenge through to completion.
  8. To be eligible for the challenge participation prize, to be drawn at random from challenge participants, each registration requires:
    1. All details in initial registration,
    2. At least 4, but up to 6 of the 6 photos at educational checkpoints throughout the challenge uploaded to the portal on the Discovery website or emailed to Two of the photos must be of the underpants before and after burial.
  9. As participants are under the age of 18 years, they are required to obtain their parent’s or guardian’s permission to enter the challenge and agree to these terms, and will be deemed to have obtained such permission by submitting an entry. Permission notes and image release forms will be sent with the challenge packs for teachers/parents to use.
  10. Photos can be submitted at or after the educational checkpoints via:
    1. the online portal on the UNE Discovery Voyager website (address stated above), OR
    2. email of photographs to stating the registering teacher/educator/parent name, class name, year level, address, and phone number.
  11. UNE reserves the right to verify the validity of all photos and to not use any photo or data which, in the opinion of UNE, fails to comply with the method described here.
  12. UNE warrants that the owners of any photo or data published will be credited and acknowledged with the name(s) of the participant.
  13. UNE collects personal information such as name, age and email address about entrants to enable them to participate in the challenge and for the purpose of carrying out the challenge. Any requests to access, update or correct information should be made to UNE.
  14. Participants agree to the publishing and disclosure of their entries, personal information (for the purposes of the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 (NSW)), including their name and image in any marketing or other publications associated with the competition, UNE or the exhibition in any format, including but not limited to video footage, audio recordings, photographic images, written material or testimonial statements.
  15. UNE will not be liable for any personal injury, loss, damage or expenses (whether direct or consequential) to persons or property arising out of or otherwise connected with this challenge or entry into this challenge.

Challenge Methods

  1. Participants register for the challenge using an online form at .
  2. Once the registration is received, a digital challenge pack will be sent to the registered email address that includes permission notes and image release forms as well as instructions and educational checkpoint information to print out.
  3. When registration is received, a practical challenge pack will be sent to the registered postal address via standard post.
  4. Participants take a photo of themselves with the undies as the BEFORE photo (Photo#1), and post it on the online submission portal found at or by emailing files to Acceptable photograph formats for submission include png, jpg and PDF.
  5. Participants bury the supplied undies in the top 5cm of soil in a location at school or home marked by the flag provided. Photo#2 is taken upon burial of the undies at the burial site.
  6. At three (3) checkpoints throughout the challenge (refer to challenge calendar for specific dates), participants undertake 1) a pH test using the kit provided, 2) soil texture test, and 3) a worm test. Photos #3, #4 and #5 are taken at these checkpoints, and uploaded to the submission portal, or emailed to
  7. Exactly 8 weeks after burial of the undies, participants dig them up and take Photo#6 at this stage. The underpants must remain in the ground for 8 weeks, otherwise the submission is deemed void.
  8. To be eligible for the participation prize, all photos #1 through #6 must be uploaded or emailed by 5pm Thursday 10th December 2020.
  9. Participants may keep the contents of the Challenge Pack if desired. Otherwise, all contents to be posted back to UNE with the soiled undies.
  10. Postal submissions of undies and Challenge Pack contents will be accepted until Friday 22nd of January 2021. Photo submissions will be accepted until 5pm Thursday 10th December 2020.
  11. UNE will photograph returned underpants, with results to be used as part of UNE’s and CottonInfo’s research projects.
  12. UNE’s photographs of returned underpants will be included in CottonInfo’s online interactive map. The pinpointed locations of these underpants will include the name of the participating school, and the location (town/suburb/postcode) of the school. Organising teacher/educator/parent name, phone number, email will not be released to CottonInfo.

Competition timeline

Date Activity Action
14 September 2020 Challenge launch Registration portal opens
25 September 2020 Registrations close Registration portal closes
15 October 2020 All undies to be buried by this date. Participants take Photo#1 and Photo#2
28th October Educational checkpoint #1: soil pH Participants take Photo#3
11th November Educational checkpoint #2: soil texture Participants take Photo#4
25th November Educational checkpoint #3: the great worm hunt Participants take Photo#5
10 December 2020 Dig up undies by this date, take photo and return undies to UNE in reply paid envelope Participants take Photo#6
22 January 2021 Last day for receiving undies at UNE
12 February 2021 Final results and communications to participants

Competition Promotion

Challenge details will be announced via:

  1. the UNE Discovery Resources page:
  2. the UNE Discovery monthly newsletter
  3. the UNE Discovery email to stakeholders
  4. the UNE Life landing page:
  5. the UNE Discovery Facebook Page:
  6. Other means deemed appropriate by UNE Discovery

Participant Rights and Ownership

  1. Entrants retain ownership of and all rights to their entries. As a condition of entry, UNE reserves a royalty-free, non-exclusive right to:
    1. Use photographs of entries to promote future UNE Discovery competitions or challenges.
    2. Publish any entry UNE or UNE Discovery websites.
    3. Publish any entry in UNE or UNE Discovery internal and external communications.
    4. Keep the files submitted, and to archive the images on CD or in other electronic forms, so that entries can be used for these purposes.
    5. Share original photographs of entries with competition or challenge collaborators (UNE Discovery, UNE Smart Farms and CottonInfo) for publishing to respective websites, internal and external communications and other promotional purposes.
  2. UNE warrants that the owners of any entries published in the above ways will be credited and acknowledged as such. This credit will include the name(s) and, where applicable, contact details of the entry’s owner(s).

Challenge Criteria

  1. The winners of the participation prize will be drawn at random from the registered participants.
  2. To be considered for the draw, challenge participants must have satisfied the conditions outlined above.
  3. Under advice from NSW Fair Trading, this challenge is considered a Trade Promotion, however as the total prize value does not exceed $10,000 a permit is not required.
  4. Rules surrounding the random draw of challenge winners will be followed in reference to NSW Fair Trading.
  5. Staff of UNE Discovery, UNE SMART Farms or CottonInfo will not be allowed to participate in the challenge. But it is permissible for their children to participate in a class that registers as there is no inherent advantage in a randomly chosen participation prize.
  6. The judge’s decisions are final, and no correspondence nor discussion will be entered into regarding the judging process or the outcomes reached.

Participation Prizes

Depending of the location of the participant prize winners, the prize may take the form of a virtual immersive workshop or physical visit to participants home or school. For locations less than three hours travel from Armidale, NSW, the prize will be in the form of a physical visit. For locations more than three hours travel from Armidale, NSW, the prize will be a virtual immersive workshop. Prizes will be awarded as follows:

  1. Kindergarten to Year 6 category: One full day immersion for the participating class with 2 members of UNE Discovery and 3 UNE staff members. The day will be an educational package focusing on soil health, and setting up and installation of their own telemetry hub, sensors and raspberry pi computer to measure soil moisture and temperature at the school.
  2. Years 7 to Year 12 category: One full day immersion for the participating class with 2 members of UNE Discovery and 3 UNE staff members. The day will be an educational package focusing on soil health, and setting up and installation of their own telemetry hub, sensors and raspberry pi computer to measure soil moisture and temperature at the school.

The total value of all prizes is $8,000 AUD. Prizes cannot be redeemed for cash.

Announcement of Participation Prize

Winners will be notified by email and/or phone on Friday 11th December 2020.  Winners will then be publicly announced via the UNE Discovery Facebook page, UNE Discovery Newsletter/email to all those on the UNE Discovery mailing list, UNE Discovery Voyager website, UNE Life Facebook page, other means deemed appropriate by UNE Discovery. The prize, which will take the form of a virtual/physical visit to the winning entrant’s class or home, will be organised and undertaken when school returns in 2021.