29 April 2016
  Science by Email  

News: Zippy zappy cars

It’s been really busy at Double Helix headquarters in the last few weeks. We’ve moved office, to the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra. There are lots of cool things at our new workplace, including a whole museum of CSIRO science! And when CSIRO staff need to zip into town or out to a research station, we get to drive around in brand new electric cars.

Most cars burn petrol, releasing pollutants into the air including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide. Electric cars run on electricity, stored in batteries. They don’t directly emit any gases into the air – they don’t even use tailpipes!
Although electric cars can be super-efficient and high tech, they aren’t completely clean. These cars run on electricity, usually from the same electricity grid that everyone uses. And, at the moment, most of Australia’s electricity comes from burning fossil fuels.
To counteract this, CSIRO is installing solar panels here in Canberra, and at sites all over Australia. Although this will be more than enough to generate power for our cars, these panels won’t charge the vehicles directly. After all, we want to use the cars during the day and charge them overnight. Instead, the solar power will be pumped back into the grid so everyone in Australia can use it.
One last thing – there’s CSIRO tech hiding inside our cars! CSIRO, Nissan and the CAST Cooperative Research Centre worked together to invent a machine part called CASTvac. Using CASTvac makes it easier to create the parts used in our Nissan Leaf cars. So there’s a bit of CSIRO inside each of our new cars and inside Nissan Leafs all over the world.

Like Zippy zappy cars and sticky sock walk on Facebook share on Twitter

CSIRO's new electric car.
New electric cars at CSIRO Discovery Centre.
UNSW Bragg science writing competition  
The UNSW BRAGG student prize for science writing promotion.

Did you know wi-fi, penicillin, ultrasound scanners and Google Maps are all Australian inventions? What do you think are the most important discoveries that have been made by Australian scientists, engineers and inventors?
Choose a great Australian invention or discovery! In 800 words or less, describe how the discovery came about, explain what it does, and discuss its importance – what does it mean for the world today and into the future?
Enter the UNSW Bragg Student Science Prize and you can win a flight to Sydney and $500 book voucher. Plus every entry wins a copy of The Best Australian Science Writing 2016 for their school.
    Quiz questions    
  1. Steven Hawking recently suggested a new space mission. How would the spacecraft be powered?
  2. How many legs does a scorpion have?
  3. What’s special about mistletoe: a) it’s a parasite, b) not all mistletoe berries are red, or c) it’s used to treat insomnia?
  4. Where is the Earth’s crust thicker: under the ocean, or on land?
  5. What’s the chemical formula for water?

Try this: Sticky sock walk
A person putting on a sock over their shoe.
Put the socks on over the top of your shoes.
A person walking through the grass with socks over their shoes.
Go for a short walk through the bush.
A magnifying glass looking at a grass seed on a sock.
Take a closer look at what has stuck to your socks.
A grass seed on a sock.
This seed has fine hairs and a spike.
Close up image of a grass seed on a sock.
What features do your seeds have to help them stick to passing animals?

You will need

  • The smallest pair of shoes you have
  • A very big pair of socks (white is best)
  • Tweezers
  • Magnifying glass or microscope (optional)
  • Some bushland to go for a walk in

What to do

  1. Put on your shoes.
  2. Put the socks on over the top of your shoes.
  3. Go for a short walk through the bush.
  4. Take off your socks and carefully turn them inside out so nothing falls off them.
  5. Go back to a desk or table to see what you’ve collected.
  6. Turn the socks the right way out and look at what is stuck to your socks.
  7. Use tweezers to pull interesting bits out of your socks so you can look at them more closely.

What’s happening?

Plants make seeds, and seeds make more plants. But plants don’t want all their ‘babies’ to stay close to home. They want to spread seeds far and wide! This tends to help young plants survive better.
You may have found some seeds on your socks. Take a closer look. What features do these seeds have? Perhaps the seeds have spikes or hooks that helped them grip to your socks. This is a model of the way some seeds spread.
Spikes or hooks on seeds stick to passing animals. The seeds attach for a while and then fall off, or are picked out when the animals stop to groom. This way of spreading seeds is called epizoochory [epi-ZO-OH-kor-ee].
There are many different ways that plants spread their seeds. Some trees put their seeds in tasty fruits, so they get eaten and pooped out somewhere else. Dandelion seeds are light and float in the wind. Coconuts float on the ocean and wash up on far away beaches, where they can grow into trees. Some plants have more active methods of spreading seeds – the sandbox tree has explosive seed pods that can throw seeds 45 metres away!

More information

Find out more about exploding seeds in the latest issue of Double Helix magazine. Like these seeds, this issue is going off with a bang! Find out about volcanoes and the explosions that power our lives. Blast off with your own mini rockets and make an erupting volcano cake. Buy your copy from CSIRO Publishing today!

Like Zippy zappy cars and sticky sock walk on Facebook share on Twitter
  Double Helix magazine promotion. New kids book, Phasmid, promotion.  
    Quiz answers    
  1. The spacecraft will have sails, powered by a laser on Earth.
  2. Scorpions have eight legs and two pincers.
  3. All three are correct. Mistletoe is a parasite that only grows on other trees. It can have berries of many colours including red, yellow and white. Mistletoe has also been used to treat insomnia.
  4. The crust is thicker on land (30–50 kilometres) than under the ocean (5–10 kilometres).
  5. Water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen, and is written H2O.