Bits and Pieces

What is a nematocyst? Find out by reading Jelly in a box

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Welcome to visitors from the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences. Click here to read the poem Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion

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Scuba Diving

The Great Barrier Reef is an excellent place for snorkelling and scuba diving. But don’t forget to keep your ears equalised.

Illustration by Amy Sheehan

Illustration by Amy Sheehan

Dipsy Divers by Celia Berrell

If you stand on the sand where the sea is near
the air that is there is one atmosphere.
And that is the pressure we measure. The push
the sea-level air can exert upon us.

It wants to stay equal so just to breathe in
expand your chest cavity. Air gets sucked in.
And when we breathe out, maybe sing or just shout,
we squash up our lungs and the air rushes out.

But if you should ever dive into the sea
the pressure below will increase. Believe me!
Ten metres of water is heavy enough
to double the pressure exerted on us.

Since most of our body is water in cells
they don’t really notice. They won’t shrink or swell.
But where there is air like our ears, gut and lungs
those spaces get squashed. Shrinking melons to plums.

Our ear-drums get stretched as the sea pushes in.
Try swallowing first so the water won’t win.
You’re aiming to have your ears equalised
by making the middle-ear air-pressure rise.

Try pinching your nose while your mouth is closed tight.
Then blow – not too hard! And then listen a mite.
The squelches and pops that you’re hoping to hear
confirm pressured air’s reached your middle-ear.

And that is good news. Now your ear-drums aren’t curved.
And lucky for you they should no longer burst!
Since NO Dipsy Diver will want to get sick
they frequently practice this Valsalva trick.

‘Tis The Season … for marine stingers!

From October to March each year the northern coast of Australia is host to the Box Jellyfish.

Jelly In A Box by Celia Berrell

The poisonous Box Jellyfish
can pack a punch of deadly pain.
But how can this be happening
when jellyfish don’t have a brain?

Its automatic weaponry
is made of special stinging cells.
We’ve named them as nematocysts
and know they work extremely well!

Inside these cells a coiled-up thread
equipped with poison on a spike
lies waiting in a capsule that
can launch it on a speedy strike.

The surface of the stinging cell
has got a tiny hair-like catch.
And when it’s touched by anything
that spike and thread begin to hatch.

The capsule’s contents flood the cell
with concentrated calcium.
So water quickly rushes in
to regain equilibrium.

But now the cell’s too fat to hold
itself together. Now it’s cursed.
And like balloons blown up too much
it dies in an explosive burst.

But first it spits that stinger out
at speeds we barely comprehend.
A rifle bullet’s very slow
compared to jelly’s poison friend.

A broken piece of tentacle
when swimming in the tropic sea
is all it takes to touch your skin
and shoot that deadly poison in!

Christmas Decorations in the Rainforest

Christmas Decorations in the Rainforest

Download Christmas Decorations in the Rainforest PowerPoint file »

The World’s Most Deadliest Snake

A selection of Celia’s poetry has recently been published in the book 2000 Feral Pigs my part in their downfall by scientist Dr Peter (Piggy) Heise-Pavlov. Piggy had a scary encounter with a taipan while researching feral pigs in a remote location and was lucky not to get bitten!

Piggy meets a taipan - cartoon by Dave Daniels

Piggy meets a taipan – cartoon by Dave Daniels

A Taipan’s Touch by Celia Berrell

The snake is coiled at latter-end
to form a base and make a stand.
Its upper-half is crimped with bends.
Compressed meanders to extend.

Its coffin-head and beady eye
are raised and aimed to swiftly strike.
The longest fangs will jab its prey.
Precision speed is what it likes.

No need to hold its victim down.
The animal is free to flee.
The Taipan’s venom, now endowed
will kill its prey efficiently.

No more than minutes have to pass
as neurotoxins circulate.
Paralysis; unconsciousness.
Its victim’s life will soon abate.

By following the scented trail
the Taipan finds its tasty meal.
The poisoned muscle-fibres fail
now tenderised within this deal.

The world’s most toxic land-based snake
will feed on rats and melomys.
Its name was coined, up on the Cape
by native Aborigines.

They long have known the reason why
instinctively we fear so much
the swift and certain way to die
bestowed by any Taipan’s touch.

Celia Berrell
PO Box 220
Fortitude Valley QLD 4006

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