Accelerating our dragon R&D program

Smaug

A mythical generator: Could the fire in Smaug’s belly power a small city?

We’ve been doing science since 1926 and we’re quite proud of what we have achieved. We’ve put polymer banknotes in your wallet, insect repellent on your limbs and Wi-Fi in your devices. But we’ve missed something.

There are no dragons.

Over the past 87 odd years we have not been able to create a dragon or dragon eggs. We have sighted an eastern bearded dragon at one of our telescopes, observed dragonflies and even measured body temperatures of the mallee dragon. But our work has never ventured into dragons of the mythical, fire breathing variety.

And for this Australia, we are sorry.

This came to our attention today when we received the following letter:

Hello Lovely Scientist

My name is Sophie and I am 7 years old. My dad told me about the scientists at the CSIRO. Would it be possible if you can make a dragon for me. I would like it if you could but if you can’t thats fine. 

I would call it toothless if it was a girl and if it is a boy I would name it Stuart. 

I would keep it in my special green grass area where there are lots of space. I would feed it raw fish and I would put a collar on it. If it got hurt I would bandage it if it hurt himself. I would play with it every weekend when there is no school. 

Love from Sophie

letter

Fanmail, with a call for dragon R&D.

Last week the Scientific American hypothesised whether dragon fire would be produced by flint, gas, or rocket fuel. We already do some research in alternative fuels, so perhaps dragon fuel is a good area for us to start accelerating our dragon R&D program. Hobbit fans would have observed the amount of fire in Smaug’s belly. But how much energy could it produce? Would dragon fuel be a low emissions option?

Thanks for the fuel for thought, Sophie. We’re looking into it. In the meantime, you can always admire the brood of Daenerys Targaryen.

Dragon

Sophie’s dragon.

 

*  *  *

UPDATE: We made Sophie a dragon. Really. Check it out in our latest post, Here be 3D printed dragons.


96 Comments on “Accelerating our dragon R&D program”

  1. Di says:

    Hmm…. not sure encouraging a 7 year old to watch Game of Thrones is a good idea, but dragons are!!

    • Wal says:

      Um, pretty sure she watched How to Train Your Dragon as opposed to Game of Thrones. Both however are most excellent!

    • Audrey says:

      Ummm black faced dragon named toothless wearing a collar and eating fish…. straight out of the children’s movie How to Train Your Dragon not Game of Thrones but guess there’s got to be someone with a naysayer comment on every post. I thought this little girl’s letter was so cute. it’s good to see kids still exercising their imagination…. and writing actual letters!!

      • Di says:

        I was referring to “In the meantime you can admire the brood of Daenerys Targaryen”, which is distinctly GOT.

        I thought the letter was ridiculously cute too. My reply was a bit tongue in cheek.

        And, well, come on CSIRO. If they can do it on Pern, we can do it on Terra

    • Nikki says:

      It’s ok Di, I got it ;p

    • inopinatus says:

      Because children shouldn’t be exposed to politics, good writing or unpleasantness? I’m just thankful my parents thought different.

      • vian says:

        Well, it’s more that parents shouldn’t have to explain that much T&A (and great gouts of blood, and GRRM’s tendancy off people in a gruesome manner) to a 7 year old. There’s plenty of good writing, politics and even unpleasantness that is a bit more age-friendly.

      • Your Parents says:

        Differently.

    • Spherical Thinker says:

      She should be spending more time in improving her English and spelling instead of watching Game of Throne or How to Train your Dragon!

      • luke says:

        lol, she’s only 7 mate.

      • Nick says:

        Really! She is 7! Encouraging a creative mind and opening a child’s eyes to science is important, well done CSIRO.

        What’s the point of correct English when you have nothing relevant to say.

      • Anya says:

        Given she is only 7 she has written a great letter for one that age. Good on the parents for their encouragement and also the CSIRO for their response. It’s even better that many other kids are now encouraged and enthusiastically considering becoming scientists, even if it doesn’t last it’s a start. A hell of a lot better than considering wearing little to nothing and being in a music video.

  2. Tosin says:

    Its amazing how far a young mind can go. We need to renew our minds as scientists.

    • fuco says:

      We need to renew our scientists contracts!

    • Carol Santos says:

      Anya you are so right…..Amazing that now she and her friends want to explore the area of science. And the study of dragons can lead to a number of disciplines. I say yea to dragons and nay to Miley Cyrus. Throw in some of McCaffrey’s Pern dragon books on the way, and you never know what may evolve from that mix. This is a story I will follow.

  3. adorable, i think she can find some creature closed to dragon in indonesia as know as a komodo :)

  4. Andrezza Agapito says:

    what fun! my son wants to do a cross between a lizard and a bat to create a dragon … he asked me to fund research … rsrsrsrsrs

  5. Lori says:

    If the Fed’s won’t fund this research, I offer my piggy bank to a Microryza crowd funding campaign! (https://www.microryza.com/)

  6. Cecilia Young says:

    Remember Dolly the sheep? Perhaps mixing the DNA of a lizard and a bat, as suggested by Andrezza Agapito’s son..? We could then have dragons as similar as the ones in the Game of Thrones :)

  7. Mark Bruckard says:

    I’m a scientist and a circus performer, I would be happy to don wings and breath fire for the young lady by way of apology for our lack of scientific progress in this regard. (if she is local to Canberra, or wants to visit)

  8. chris says:

    Hmmm, maybe the DNA option has some credence. By all accounts there are pigs that can fly which must mean that this has been done before……………..

    As an aside, there is a movie called IVOR THE ENGINE that may provide some inspiration to the scientists at CSIRO. Clearly the dragons exist – they just don’t want to be found.

  9. Peter says:

    Well done CSIRO. More priceless work from the worlds best. Shows you can be among the worlds smartest yet still grounded. Makes me proud to be Australian.

  10. Michael says:

    I think the classic text here is Dickinson’s ‘The Flight of Dragons': http://books.google.com.au/books?id=XzOfAAAACAAJ

    He has them as hydrogen-filled, for buoyancy and combustion.

    • Mario G. says:

      +1 Michael, you beat me to it! This book IS the definitive “thesis” on dragons. I had the pleasure of reading it in my early 20’s, and still remember it.

      Wikipedia describes it as “a speculative natural history book”. It includes gorgeous illustrations by Wayne Anderson and would be very easy for Sophie to read.

      Dickinson includes such explanations as (e.g.) the dragon’s hoard of gold was just because its corrosive body would erode all other minerals in its cave, leaving only gold behind.

  11. Marty says:

    Very well done CSIRO.

  12. Id be happy with them cloning a Tasmanian Tiger ( we need to get on this sooner rather than later because the base material gets too old) , or creating a new gene template for the Tasmanian Devil (ie inbuilt sequencing vs Cancer)

    As to the the letter though, thats great!

    • Kat says:

      Problem with cloning a Thylacine is getting the DNA. Yes, there are some nice specimens preserved, but their DNA isn’t too crash hot. Turns out that pickling ‘em in various fluids isn’t helpful for that.

  13. Food From Our Life says:

    Love it, love that you’ve taken the time to respond to her and encourage her love of all things scientific! Nice one CSIRO – I guess we can blame Rabbit for the lack of funding on Dragon research :)

  14. vonprussia says:

    Gorgeous Story – Remember Australia Has Bearded Dragons! : )

  15. Spence says:

    This is excellent :)

  16. Deahna says:

    Well done CSIRO … You definitely made one little girl very HAPPY and I bet plenty more who haven’t had the chance to send in letters… GOOD WORK!!

  17. Aquahead says:

    Wonderful response by the CSIRO Team, not only have they kept the dreams of a young person well and truly alive, but they have shown that Australia’s great minds still know what it’s like to dream as well. Keep up the great work!

  18. Mel M says:

    In addition to being fuel alternative, surely dragons would be lucrative asset to the mineral resources industry (if you can convince them to give up the goods)? Maybe a collaborative funding deal with BHP or Rio Tinto could make Sophie’s dream a reality?

    *Stay off GoT for now though Soph, stick with Hiccup and friends – Daenarys could probably pick up a few pointers from them herself because her dragons are very naughty at the moment. ;o)

  19. Leah says:

    Here’s to Dragon Fuel! Nice work CSIRO – I always thought Science and magic were intertwined. Perhaps we can partner with our friends over the Tasman in Middle Earth.

  20. DebF says:

    You need to hire a woman called Kitti Ping. She’s the one who’ll make sure it all comes together for you. Of course you might have to ensure we travel through space and set up a colony on Pern, to discover dragonets (http://pern.wikia.com/wiki/Fire_lizard) first…

  21. Well Wisher says:

    People, she is just a child. Lets delight in her imagination than going gung-ho on Game of thrones etc, and leaving dicouraging comments and bring her down. I make spelling mistakes al tha tyme. Leave her to her beautiful creative mind, and let her develop how her parents see fit. Seems like a bright young lady, with lovely parents. Would you be so nasty to your children? You are best to know that, and keep it to yourselves.

    Just a simple letter from a lovely girl took different directions. Shame on you.

    @Sophies parents, keep her imagination alive.

    Sophie, you are awesome. One day, one of your letters might change something.

    • Ken says:

      Well said and well done Sophie. The letter has already changed my mood and that’s something. I suspect I may not be alone either. Sophie is likely to have done more for the cause of science in Australia this year than anyone else. Bravo to the CSIRO, keep up the great work.

      Sophie, I hope you get a dragon soon (sorry mum and dad)

  22. George Freischmidt says:

    Dear Sophie

    We do have ‘pretend’ dragon eggs which you might find fun (mum and dad, please help):

    http://www.csiro.au/helix/sciencemail/activities/DragonEggs.html

    all the best

    George (not THAT George)

  23. Olivia says:

    Thank you Vanessa Hill, thank you CSIRO. A sense of humor and engaging young people is a positive thing. :-). Also I especially love the fact that this letter was written and posted old school style.

  24. jilly says:

    Reblogged this on fluffysciences and commented:
    Well this is just adorable.

    When we get around to it, my dragon will be called Ramoth of course

    • Natalie V says:

      I do blame Anne McCaffrey for my love of dragons. I also keep looking for those faeries at the bottom of my garden- I’m sure I’ve seen them out of the corner of my eye.

      • jilly says:

        They must be there!

      • Seona Beth Coster says:

        Natalie, I too blame Anne McCaffrey for my love of Dragons. If only I had been as brave as Sophie when I was her age to write to scientists, Dragon Research would have been going on for more than 20 years.

  25. Sarah says:

    What a fabulous article! Fueling a child’s imagination is so important… Science has it’s roots in imagination… If people didn’t dream of flying, creating light, having technology to speak to others on the opposite side of the world how different would our lives be?!
    Sophie (and her parents) keep those dreams big – and keep knocking on doors :-)
    Thank you for starting my day with such a big smile!

  26. Outbackmojo says:

    Can someone please pass on to Sophie. A
    Black Salamanda or Axalotl s identical to “Toothless” if thats what shes after. Most pet shops can get the version that dont have wings as they tend to fly away.

    My son debated with a pet shop owner on when their wings would grow in.

    Their great pets, much better than fish and great to watch feeding at night. They will eat right out of your hand.

    Best of luck Sophie.

  27. Peter Ward says:

    Dragons have existed they created hydrogen as a bi product of their digestive tract this fuelling their fiery breath their bones being hollow and the dragons being able to fill them with hydrogen aided them in flight sadly it is the reason that there are no fossils of dragons for on their death it caused (the hydrogen) them to burst into flame consequently leaving no trace of their existence in empirical form. The evidence of their existence is proven by the very fact that all cultures from very early times have recorded dragons and the similarity of their description both in drawings and verbal is to great for it to be a just a myth.And as be shown time and time again all myths are based of substantive fact.
    One noted researcher argued in his thesis on dragons, disputing the sceptics views that according to the laws of aerodynamics bumble bees should not have flight because of their shape so how can heavy dragons which were like big lizards fly. The weight factor is discounted by the hollow bones (birds) and hydrogen emission. We dream, we ponder, we invent, we grow, we think, we learn, we hope, we believe and so we live.Happy New Year Peter Ward Merriwa

  28. Natalie V says:

    They probably won’t find anything though as dragons only reveal themselves to people who REALLY believe.

  29. Sherry Zhang says:

    I work in Higher Edu to recruit Chinese students to study in Aust. Heard this on ABC news this morning, loved it, and posted it to Chinese social media site Weibo and Wechat. I explained that Aust education is to encourage children to find their own answers, instead of asking them to remember what we adult think the right answer is. So far received lots of response from Chinese parents, they loved it and extremely surprised that Aust scientists treated a little girl’s request so seriously! Well done Australia!

    • In the 1400’s Zheng He’s voyages “around?” the world, brought back proof to the empror and the people of China, there were actual dragons. He brought two giraffes from Africa, and put low any doubt from that point on. People should remember that Chinese dragons rarely spit fire. There were many kinds and shapes. The giraffe easily fit the pattern of several of the established “known” dragon lore!! Why Zheng He is not more prominent in World History is a mystery. And the fact the 1434 expedition to Italy was a profound influence on the European renaissance is missing from history as well.

      • I’ll stand corrected on the 1434 expedition to Europe, that may not be provable, but certainly has interesting connotations. Including Sinbad the Sailor was probably Chinese too ;-)

  30. L'ce says:

    While I am not sure about dragons as a fuel source, I believe that there ability to ‘leap’ through time and space (as evidenced in MaCaffrey’s Pern) would be invaluable during natural disasters.

  31. Kirstie Marshall says:

    To the Scientists at the CSIRO,

    How wonderful to see the selection criteria of all the amazing people who work at the CSIRO now includes mathematical and emotional expertise.

    Could not be prouder to be an Australian (and a mother of a couple of kids who love dragons)

    Well done!

  32. Rosie says:

    But … but … but … I want a unicorn…

  33. Dear CSIRO.

    I may be able to help you. I don’t have a “Dragon” as such but I do have an engine design that is being scheduled to run in February. We always intended to call the head design, the Dragon head engine for good technical reasons, as the exhaust gasses are allowed to be much hotter, allowing the catalytic convertor to run more efficiently, and hence, cleaner. It is based on replacing the conventional valves with rotary valves and when these retro fit kits go on sale, they will be marketed with dragons aplenty. This is partly due to a fascination with Dragons since I was a child and collecting or making models, pictures and toys of these so called mythical creatures ever since I can remember. I can’t help but thinking there is more to the truth about these animals than complete myth, even as an adult engineer. Maybe some link with “the chariots from the Gods” but as they say, there is no smoke without fire.

    • Really?? time will tell.

    • John Barr says:

      If it works , do you think the boffins will allow you to produce it. Remember it wasn’t invented by CSRIO or son professors team at a University so it’ll never get their endorsement.
      I have a Dragon, it comes to see me every day, it eats cockroaches. It’s only little yet, but wait until it grows.

      I can’t see a Bat & a lizard cross working but a chook & a lizard, Hmmm.

  34. Dear Vanessa Hill,

    Thank you for this article and for demonstrating renewed commitment to advancing dragon research.

    I am a dragon research scholar myself and argue in my latest paper that there is a huge untapped potential in the use of dragons for human kind.

    I would like to invite you and your team to join our small circle of academics and practitioners. Your background and expertise would add unique insight to our discussion.

    This is where you can find us:
    ‘Why the UN needs Dragons’ – published on http://www.lobloggomy.com.

    • Amanda Birkenhauer says:

      ok so lets use a dragon if they existed to torture and do what man wants! put a dragon to use for our own purposes rather than god put them here to intentionally do ! and what capture them and hold them against their will like killer whales, tigers monkeys and so on! how can we protect other species when we are uncapable as humans to care for ourselves (meaning our own species) we seek to destroy enemies even though they are human and we find reasons to do it even if not valid hence human nature! I think that saving species is best by leaving them in their own environment and not disrupt their environment! and then if man were to create a species how very wrong that in itself could go, look at viruses, and bacteria’s we could create something that seems harmless and end up with complete monsters! we must learn to how to keep our species alive before tackling on creating new or saving old ones! Not to say that we shouldn’t protect endangered species or whales like on whale wars but to cage them up to do it like with tigers is a little ridiculous! one attraction that enrages me is sea world! dolphins r smart we got that but at the end of the day after entertaining the adults and kids do they get to go home and relax or go swimming around their man built habitat! just my opinion! and scary thing to is what if we were to clone a extinct animal that would be going way to far they r extinct for a reason and god obviously plays a role in that and who r we to play god and bring back to face a world that is more unstable now then ever before!

  35. This is not a live dragon, I know, but if Sophie is interested in mechanical dragons I have designed and built a small one that breathes fire. I have all the plans and instructions if she would like to try making it. You can see the video on YouTube:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuebMIlPrUI‎

  36. Derren says:

    This is ridiculous, the Bible said nothing of Dragons, therefore they don’t exist. stupid heads!!!!

    • Hedley Allen says:

      Actually the bible mentions dragons several times, so I suggest you actually read it. Just as several other religious texts do. Your friendly neighborhood Atheist
      “And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.” (Revelation 12:3)

      • Noel says:

        Well said Hedley… totally owned Derren … haha

      • Mario G. says:

        Hedley, I don’t really think “Derren” is actually a Christian that really believes in the Bible. I’m a Christian that believes in LOTS of things not mentioned in the Bible (E.g. According to Derren’s logic, kangaroos don’t exist). I have no problem with dragons, and if they are proved to exist would marvel at the diversity of God’s creation, via His marvelous mechanism of Evolution.

  37. Well I think that maybe Sophie’s mom and dad could look into the Flying Dragon or Draco Volans. They are found in the southwest tropical forest of Asia and India. They are available as pets according to the artical that I read. They are little mini dragons. They can fit in your hand but look just like the dragon in Lord of the Rings.

  38. Margaret says:

    Dear CSIRO and Sophie,

    Well done! Personally I am happy to write to my local member and ask her to support more CSIRO funding for dragon research (as well as other CSIRO projects!). Meanwhile can I recommend to parents (or just dragon lovers) the excellent production “The Last Dragon” (shown about 2004-2005 on Channel 4) covering some high-grade dragon research – my 7-year old son dragon-obss\essed son and his cousins practically memorised this. My son also has axolotls………(named Toothless, Ruth and Topaz i.e. Hiccup, Anne McCaffrey and Dragons of Deltora).
    P.S. Love this discussion – really made my day!

  39. Spherical Thinker says:

    “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” – Francis Pharcellus Church, 1897
    “Yes, Sophie, there is a dargon” – a Scientist at CSIRO, 2014
    “Yes, Sophie, there is a dragon in my theme park” – Clive Palmer, coming soon
    “Yes, Sophie, there is a dragon. You’re fired!” – Donald Trump, sometime after 2004
    “Yes, Sophie, there is a dragon. It has run out of puff!” – Julia Gillard, before 2013

  40. Hedley Allen says:

    So insect DNA for limb numbers, bird for the light bones, blue whale for size, bat for the wings, spitting cobra for the fangs and spitting mechanism as well as the glands and bombardier beetle for the naturally produced explosive gas glands, stick it in an ostrich egg, Job Done! There may be a reason why they won’t let me in a genetics lab…………..

  41. Robyne says:

    You should have just sent her an effigy of Christine Milne..the name Sophie chose would be PERFECT!

  42. If the Bombard bug can make acids in itself, why couldn’t Dragons create flammable gasses and light them at the end of their mouth using Bio-Electricity?

  43. Sean says:

    The CSIRO is the greatest! Well done for making a little girls day! (and mine)

  44. shannoncity says:

    Reblogged this on Shannon City and commented:
    Loving it! :D

  45. Seona Beth Coster says:

    I’ve always wanted a dragon myself. Sophie is a girl after my own heart.
    Just another thought on the benefits of creating a dragon/dragons:- low emission travel. Something to consider with fuel going up and up and up, and the mighty distances we have to travel. :0)

    To all of you at the CSIRO, well done on how you handled this little girls request, and not squashing her dreams, either of having a dragon or of becoming a scientist that works at the CSIRO.

  46. tlmcfee says:

    Dragon fire as an alternative fuel is a terrible idea. It is extremely carcinogenic, which is what led to the demise of the wild dragon population.

  47. GIRTxC says:

    We had a lovely dragon when we were kids, back in the 1960s.
    Here are The Seekers to remind us of Puff:

    I’m sure that he is still around.

  48. John Barr says:

    I would have thought it would have been nicer for the CSIRO to have replied in the language of a seven year old instead of the somewhat stuffy reply she got. One of the Scientists children should have written the reply.

  49. Blockader says:

    Stuart the dragon! I love it!

  50. Amanda Birkenhauer says:

    Umm, my eight year old wants a Pegasus and if it were a girl she would name it princess and she would want it to be a brilliant white with shimmering pink wings can u make one for her ! she believes that they hold the key to peace in the world!

  51. Kristina says:

    Kudos! I certainly hope she becomes a scientist! I certainly try to encourage my niece to be more curious about science and math so I’m going to show her this :)

  52. Lars-Erik says:

    Thanks for putting a big smile on my face!

    I am an Aircraft technician and at age 43 I still look for dragons…..But I assume the cold climate here in Norway is the reason I haven’t found one yet….

    Kudos to you guys for doing this, wonderful story!

  53. Jacquelyn says:

    Well done. What a beautiful thing you have done, encouraging one’s imagination. Our children need more of that. “How to Train Your Dragon” is one of my family’s favorite movies and dragons are the embodiment of mythical. So, from the United States of America, “there be dragons.” Thank you for putting a smile on my heart and a bright spot in my day.

  54. Jack Dalton says:

    Dear CSIRO please export a little of that humanity and understanding to the scientific community in the US. Please! Nurturing the next generation of scientists and dreamers will benefit your country. I’m jealous

  55. Cathy says:

    Way to go CSIRO! Brilliant! The imagination is the most powerful learning tool!

  56. Mischelle Anderson, NY via FL says:

    OK, CSIRO, don’t stop there. You have a golden opportunity right now, especially since the little girl said her friends want to become scientists. Mass produce Toothless and Stuart. Use the revenue to go into a scholarship fund for girls who want to study science. Make the face Black just like she asked. Ask Sophie to be a Youth Ambassador to the firm to encourage the study of science. Sponsor a science-fair. Why hope and wait that she will go into the field of science? Be more proactive with your role in a potential future scientist. I don’t know what the education system is in Australia in terms of whether or not it is free, co-sponsored, or out- of-pocket. Irrespective, the generated funds could really be beneficial for the study of alternative fuels. Think of the dialogue you could create with children and schools. What if you had CSIRO Centers in schools or Sophie Centers that serve as little research-think tanks where children play with things scientific that perhaps turn into another great idea? It matters not from where ideas originate, it is what we do with them that matters. Let’s not read about another apology.

    PS: A picture of an eastern bearded dragon and a mallee dragon would have been great. Nothing wrong with an educational moment. Now, I have to leave your website and look for something on what you are talking about (lost reader :(

    [BTW: I would have put $5 into the fund via the Internet. You'd be amazed at how much you could earn for such a worthy cause]

  57. Mischelle Anderson, NY via FL says:

    Here’s another thought from MA from the US–you already have an Aussie Ambassador to the UN with two young girls whose mom during her life was a feminist who championed women’s rights. Seems like you got a built-in opportunity from someone on the home front who would gladly support and help you further the idea of Sophie Centers.

  58. leslie says:

    Three cheers to the Aussie scientists who took Sophie’s letter and gave it serious consideration! What a wonderful story to run around the world!! Three cheers to Sophie’s parents for caring and educating her, and making her self confident and curious enough to write her letter. I am sitting in Boston, Massachusetts and smiling. Thank you!

  59. I have not read a reply this profound or satisfying, since the editor of the New York Sun posted “yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” in 1897. What we are willing to believe in defines us.

  60. This is not how dragons are made !

    This is how a new scientist is born at 7 years of age ! You have just planted a seed and this young Sophie will be one day, just maybe, that one who discovers one of the universe’s secrets to change our world !

    Keep seeding ! We sure need it !


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