Stenocarpus sinuatus

Firewheel Flowers crop

I ride to work through side streets to avoid the busy roads. There’s very little traffic so I spend most of my time looking around and listening to the radio on my phone (headphone cords act as antennae!). I noticed a flower on a tree that I’d never seen before. I made a point of changing the route of my next run to pass it, so I could look at it up close. It’s fascinating.

Several days later I took my camera to work, and stopped by this tree on my way home to take some pictures. I was busily shooting when an older gentleman came up to me from next door with his lawn mower.

When I got home I talked to Ben online, who was at the library working:

 me: I just met the nicest person, taking pictures.
  I was taking pictures of that tree I showed you yesterday
  and he lives nextdoor, and was coming out to edge his lawn.
  he asked me if I was taking pictures of a bird, in which case he’d not start his machine and scare it away.
6:25 PM I said no, I’m just taking pictures of these flowers, they’re so unusual.
  Do you know what they are?
6:26 PM He said, well, I think it’s called a fire wheel tree, but that’s not the real name… the woman who used to live there told me the scientific name more than once, but I can’t remember, I don’t think.
  I thanked him, he went to edging, I went to shoooting.
6:27 PM A bit later he came walking over to me with his edger on idle, and said, this might not be right either, but there’s a tree called the Illawarra Flame Tree, named after the place, Illawarra. That might be it. I don’t know if that’ll help, but maybe you could look them up.
  So I said yes, even if they aren’t scientific names, I’m sure they’ll bring up information online, thank you!
  Then I went back to shooting.
6:28 PM When I was done I asked him if I could take his picture, as the person who told me what the flowers were.
  He said he wasn’t very photogenic, but ok.
  I did, showed him, and he said “you can always delete it.”
 me: I rode away, got home, got my camera out of the bag
 me: and discovered I dropped my dragon change bag somewhere while I was getting out a new memory card.
 me: So I got dressed again and rode back to all the places I had been
  and as I rode past him to the tree where I had been taking pictures, he waved me over
6:30 PM and said he knew it had to belong to me! He was going to call the hospital tomorrow to try and return it (we’d chatted about work)
  I like him.
The wonderful Ross

The very nice Ross

While he was edging and I was shooting, a noisy miner did show up to drink some nectar, noise or no noise! It’s not a great picture, but it’s all I’ve got.

Noisy Miner and firewheels

*note: Stenocarpus sinuatus is a tree native to Australia, more frequently found further to the tropical north.

**note: Noisy Miners sure do live up to their name! We have a family living outside our living room window, and they’ve had at least one clutch of young so far. They can lay eggs several times a year (and are veeeeery territorial when they do! They’ll swoop and call and even attack you if you get too close). When the young are fledging, they go through a long phase of experimenting with their voices and cycling through the weirdest most bizarre calls before settling on the more typical adult miner call. It’s been entertaining to listen to!

On The Ethics of Animal Research

*note: I am not speaking in Standard Philosophical Definitions of ethics here. This is a pile of thoughts.

I’ve been attending a two day class on animal handling and ethics at the University of New South Wales this week.

A month ago I took a similar course offered by University of Sydney, and I’ve gotta say, the UNSW version is way better. And I’m saying that even though it took 2 days of my time vs one for the USyd course. The USyd course was composed of similar elements, but much less intensive, and not as well done.

It’s really, really interesting how much they talk about the ethics of animal research and the importance of an animal’s wellbeing here. Vs. in the US where what I remember most from the half day orientation I got was the instructor advising us not to pick heavy mice up by the tail because sometimes their skin can come off. Pretty much anything would be more informative than that class was, but the UNSW course has been spectacular.

The course has included about an hour’s information on our safety as animal handlers, about three hours on how to properly handle and do procedures on the animals (more training to occur at the specific animal facilities people will be involved with), and the rest of the time on various aspects of the ethics of animal experimentation, and our responsibilities as researchers.

There is a huge focus on reducing the impact of animal experiments on the animals, and that includes using non-animal methods for parts of the study where possible, paying attention to the animal’s anxiety and general wellbeing, and planning experiments efficiently to use fewer animals.  It seems to be standard here to provide rodents with some sort of house or shelter, and rats get wood to play with and chew on. I feel so much better working with animals when there’s at least a tiny semblance of environmental enrichment in their lives.

The animal’s state of mind is considered. Its importance is presented in two ways: the scientific practical consideration that anxiety and fear can significantly alter many results, in addition to the overlying Treat Animals With Respect standpoint.

Every procedure performed on an animal in Australia, every experiment planned, has to be approved by an Animal Ethics Committee. A similar system of approving protocols exists in the US. But there’s something really interesting going on here, specifically: every committee is composed of four members, a vet, a researcher, a layperson, and an animal welfare representative. They all have to agree that a given proposal is justified in its use of animals in that there are clear benefits to be gained, that there aren’t other alternatives to get similar data, and that there are adequate procedures in place to prevent animal pain and distress.

These committees oversee animals used for scientific research, teaching, agriculture field trials, wildlife studies…

My (albeit with limited experience in Australia) sense is that similar amounts and types of research go on here as in the states, but the way it’s thought about is what’s different.

The instructors of this course have been generally fantastic (it’s been fun to be in a classroom environment again, especially with good presenters), but the content is what has stood out. The focus of the course hasn’t been to drill facts or catchphrases into our heads. The focus has been to be thought provoking, to introduce perspectives and considerations that we may not have thought of. The aim seems to have been to make us into more thoughtful, deliberate, researchers, and that is awesome.


January 18, 3ish o’clock, at work.

Being a lab scientist has its benefits. We can swipe dry ice for bottle-explody experiments, usurp broken cell culture flasks to store bug carcasses, and we have infinite cardboard boxes at our disposal when it comes time to move. And when it’s a record-breaking day in Sydney, Australia, we have the sensitive digital thermometers to set out in the shade in the courtyard for evidence.

That’s one hundred and twelve degrees for you fahrenheit people. IN THE SHADE.