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Double Helix: Supporting young readers to grow into scientists

By Jasmine, 10 August 2021 News

Woman surrounded by magazines

Jasmine read Double Helix growing up, and has been an Editor on the magazines since 2008
Image: CSIRO/David Shaw

I’m Jasmine Fellows, Editor of CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine. As a girl, I’d often be found with my nose stuck in a book, comic, or magazine. I even read the earliest versions of our magazine, Double Helix News and The Helix.

This year Double Helix is 35 years old. Over the years, we’ve reached hundreds of thousands of readers with our science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) stories.

Our early magazines definitely played a part in inspiring me to study science, and I’ve become a science communicator. I’m not alone either, many former Double Helix readers are now adults in STEM careers.

In 2018, we carried out a survey of past Double Helix readers and received 562 responses. We found out that 66% of the respondents were either working or studying in STEM fields. Many shared their memories of growing up with the magazine.

We also carried out a survey of current magazine readers in 2020. We found that 84% of the respondents were more interested in science than before they started reading Double Helix. We’re so excited to support young readers in their love of all things STEM!

To celebrate National Science Week, here are three of our favourite stories of how Double Helix has helped inspire young readers into STEM-related careers over the last 35 years.

Heather Burridge

Woman in action on wires

“I am on a wire setup called a Jerkback which is being used to simulate an explosion reaction into a wall,” says Heather
Image: Supplied by Heather Burridge

Stunt Actor

Heather grew up with a thirst to explore, becoming a Double Helix subscriber at just eight years old. A passion for science followed her through to university, where she started a double degree in engineering and science. But she quickly realised her true passions lay in acting and more unexpectedly, stunt performance.

Maths and physics are key components of any movie stunt – whether through the calculation of speeds and braking distances for a car stunt, or understanding the physics of projectile motion while stunt rigging.

Woman on fire

“I am coated in Fire Retardant Gel we call Water Gel. It absorbs the heat so makes you feel really cold,” explains Heather
Image: Supplied by Heather Burridge

Stunt rigging is the control of wires, ropes and machinery for visual effects. It’s often used when imitating flying or being thrown from an explosion. Getting the stunt right involves heaps of calculations to work out where to rig ropes and how hard to pull on each. But it’s worth it to make the stunt as spectacular as possible – and to keep the stunt performer safe.

When you think of a dangerous movie stunt, being set on fire may also come to mind. But through the use of chemistry and rigorous safety procedures, Heather insists it’s much safer than it seems.

“Weirdly enough, being set on fire isn’t a particularly risky stunt, considering how dangerous it seems,” she says. “There is so much safety involved, and everyone is very alert while the stunt is being performed.”

The secret behind this stunt is preparation. The performer wears protective clothing to cover most of their body. To protect everything else, a fire-retardant gel covers the stunt performer. The fire-retardant gel starts out as a powder that is mixed with water. The super-absorbent particles take in up to 100 times their weight in water, creating a gel-like consistency. During the stunt, the gel acts as a protective coating, absorbing heat produced by the flames!

Steph McLennan

A woman wearing snow gear, surrounded by snow

Steph is a geoscientist who read Double Helix magazine as a teenager
Image: Supplied by Steph McLennan

Antarctic Geoscientist,
Geoscience Australia

Dr Steph McLennan is a geoscientist, and her job is to piece together clues from Earth’s history to help understand human impacts on Antarctica. In a recent interview with the Avid Research podcast, Steph said she read Double Helix magazine as a teenager, and found the stories fascinating.

Here’s a beautiful infographic from the podcast, mapping Steph’s career, and noting the role we played in supporting Steph’s interest in science.

A flow chart that features many of the steps that Steph McLennan took to being a scientist, including "I want to have a lemonade stand", "CSIRO Double Helix magazine" and "grad at Geoscience Australia". Listen to the podcast at https://avidresearch.com.au/?episodeId=034 for full details.

Follow Steph’s career path from wanting a lemonade stand and reading Double Helix, to becoming an Antarctic geoscientist (click image to enlarge)
Image: Amelia Travers

Joseph Bevitt

Man holding a large dinosaur fossil

Joseph is setting up this fossil for high-resolution X-ray imaging. This leg bone is from Australovenator, an Australian dinosaur!
Image: Joseph Bevitt

Senior Instrument Scientist,
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation

Handling fossils is all in a day’s work for Dr Joseph Bevitt. He uses high-powered scientific instruments to create digital images of fossils. These instruments use X-rays or neutrons, neutral sub-atomic particles, that allow researchers to look inside samples without destroying them.

At work, Joseph has studied an amazing variety of fossils. They range from the contents of dinosaur stomachs, to the skulls of ancient animals, and fossilised plants to dinosaur eggs. He’s also assisted with research into newly engineered materials and cultural remains, including Egyptian mummies, jewellery, ancient tools, statues and coding devices.

Joseph read Double Helix magazine as a child, and he’d try out the hands-on experiments at home. “I loved the diversity of science and easy way in which complex phenomena were explained,” says Joseph. “I became very interested in chemistry, and followed up with the purchase of a home chemistry lab at age 8.”

“I ended up pursuing a PhD in science. I also learned to tell science stories in a similar fashion to Double Helix. Even now, I see public and school science communication as a critical aspect of scientific discovery.”

We asked Joseph for his advice for aspiring scientists. “Contact a scientist,” says Joseph. “Ask them questions on how they got to their current role, ask about the challenges and benefits of research, and what they enjoy most about what they do.”

“The age of scientific discovery and technological advancement is only just beginning. Scientists are essential to our future economy and improving our wellbeing, and Double Helix readers have the potential to be those future scientists!”


Subscribe a young reader to Double Helix magazine to celebrate National Science Week. We are offering a limited time discount on subscriptions to help spread the love of science with our next generation.

Subscribe now! button


Written by Jasmine Fellows and Jenna Lindberg

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