Downland wildlife on the Powell Day walk

By Mary Shotter, Biology Technician

The wooded slopes and rolling hills of the South Downs are a very special landscape and provide a habitat for a wide and interesting variety of species, so Powell Day provided a perfect opportunity to see them at their best in the early spring sunshine.

Not far from the start point in the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, as we climbed gradually along a valley between War and Holt Downs, the browns and greens of the landscape were punctuated by a large patch of bright yellow coltsfoot, one of a few plants with the unusual habit of flowering before any leaves emerge. It is the leaves from which its name derives – when they do eventually unfurl in April they are large and hoof shaped.

Along the track were also patches of Juniper, the berries of which are used for flavouring gin. Once common, it is now a rare sight, due to habitat loss.

The colourful bracket fungus, turkeytails, covered piles of logs besides the chalky tracks. Further along between Buriton and Ditcham, at Coulters Dean, the path turned off the South Downs Way and past a field and grassy bank which was dotted with huge mounds of yellow meadow ant nests. Each one will house between 8,000 and 40,000 ants, feeding their larvae on the roots of Downland plants such as wild thyme. From here the track wound uphill through beech woodland, carpeted with wild garlic, the smell of which became obvious as it was crushed beneath our feet.

On the open grassland of Ditcham Park, skylarks were singing, hovering effortlessly, high above the ground, then parachuting down onto the fields, before ascending again. A lone red admiral butterfly flew past – most red admirals are migratory but a few like this one, will have hibernated and emerged into the early spring warmth in search of nectar. In the more open landscape around Chalton, buzzards and a lone red kite flew overhead, watching as we re-entered the Queen Elizabeth Park and after three hours made our way past yew and pine trees down to the finish.

Bedales launches Greenpower team

By Alex McNaughton, Head of Product Design

Thanks to the generosity of the Bedales Parents’ Association (BPA), this year the Design department has brought the Greenpower Competition – a significant and highly competitive design and engineering competition for secondary schools – to Bedales.
 
The Greenpower Education Trust is a UK based charity which gets young people enthusiastic about science and engineering by challenging them to design, build and race an electric car. Established in 1999, Greenpower now work with 300 schools, with around 500 teams participating in the competition’s classes: Formula Goblin (for children aged 9-11); Formula 24 (for children aged 11-16); and Formula 24+ (for young people aged 16-25). 
 
As a number of Bedales students from Block 3 to 6.2 have a keen interest, aptitude and sympathy for design, technology and engineering, many of whom have previously expressed a desire to take part in the competition, we saw an opportunity to launch a Greenpower team – initially in the Formula 24 category – for a group of students to work throughout the year to build and improve a vehicle to race at nationally organised events, which are hosted at top race circuits such as Goodwood, Dunsfold, Castle Combe and Rockingham.
 
Our Greenpower team is open to anyone in school who wishes to participate – students and staff alike. As well as offering a practical outlet for students who have either not chosen or been able to choose to study Design, it gives students who are going on to study an engineering discipline at university a fantastic way to bolster their UCAS application and CV. The project also promotes cross-curricular collaboration, with the Physics department contributing time and expertise.


 
To get the team up and running, the BPA kindly funded cost of a complete kit to build a functioning vehicle, bodywork and battery charger for the vehicle, specialist tools and safety clothing for drivers and pit crew. This year we are learning many valuable lessons by rebuilding and improving a second hand kit car. Our long-term plan is to build a car from scratch to compete annually, continually improve our vehicles to make them more efficient and highly competitive. 
 
We currently have a team of 12 eager and motivated students from every year group who meet each week to build and develop our car for the 2022 season. The first race is in April which we are on course to compete in. 
 
The Greenpower Competition is fundamentally about producing an energy efficient electric car. It is ideally placed to promote and practically demonstrate the increasingly important and prominent issues of sustainability and the vital role of technology within this field.

Brain Day with Dr Guy Sutton

By Lily Brough, 6.2

On Thursday, A Level Psychology and Biology students were joined by Dr Guy Sutton for ‘Brain Day’. It was an inspiring day full of talks, ranging from the effects of drugs on the brain, criminality, brain trauma and the future of the brain. We even got to witness a live dissection of a sheep brain, exploring the different areas of the brain. The day showcased the far-reaching impacts of psychology and neuroscience and its relevance to many unsuspecting aspects of life.

The morning saw a detailed introduction to the structure of the brain, as well as the concepts of neuroplasticity and imaging techniques. This included contemporary studies on the effects of COVID-19 and the Abracadabra project, which studied the long term effects of cognitive stimulation in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas. This was followed up by an informative look at the effects of drugs such as cannabis and ketamine on the brain. It was especially interesting to learn of the vastly different effects various forms of cannabis can have – THC causes cognitive impairment, while CBD can be used as a treatment for epilepsy, for example. Just before lunch, we had a look at various neuroimaging techniques. Students particularly enjoyed the vivid images produced by diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), as well as the extremely complex connectomes being created.

After lunch, Dr Sutton explored possible explanations of schizophrenia before giving a powerful talk on the ‘criminal brain’. Looking at different case studies, we were able to explore the complexity of the causes behind crime and the debate of free will. This revealed the philosophical questions that underpin both psychological and neuroscientific research. After this, we had the exciting brain dissection, which gave us a chance to see the structures discussed during the day. Everyone was intrigued by the strange texture of the brain and enjoyed inspecting the hippocampus and cerebellum.

To end the day, there was a talk on the future of the brain, with the discussion of neuro-bionics and the impending fusion of the brain and technology. This sparked much debate about the ethics and morals of advancing research and left us thinking about the future of neuroscience.

By Pip Stamp, Teacher of Psychology

I was extremely proud of our students on Brain Day. To quote Dr Guy Sutton: “I always enjoy visiting Bedales. I was particularly impressed this year, given what has happened over the past 18 months, of how attentive and receptive the students were. They engaged fully, asked some great questions and equally, answered my questions with intelligent and thoughtful responses. Generally, a really delightful, attentive and polite audience and I very much look forward to visiting again.”

The Chemical History of Nicotine – Science Lunchtime Lecture Series

By Mary Shotter, Biology Technician

As part of the Science Lunchtime Lecture Series, A Level science students and members of 3i were joined by Dr Harry Pearson, former Bedales Housemaster and Head of Science/Chemistry, in the Simon Lecture Theatre to explore ‘The Chemical History of Nicotine’.

The intellectually stimulating talk began with the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492, where European explorers were offered a ‘fuming material’ called zikari, made from the leaves of the plant Nicotiana tabacum by indigenous people. Harry’s talk then led us to 1560s Paris, when diplomat and scholar Jean Nicot de Villemain brought in seeds from the Americas and introduced the plant to France. Paris Society was polarised by this new ‘magic’ substance, now named ‘nicotine’ after Jean Nicot.

From France, Harry took us to 1800s Germany, where nicotine was first isolated in Heidelberg University – its chemical structure being determined in 1891. After an in depth look at nicotine’s chemical properties and the use of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to determine the molecular structure, the talk concluded with a look at nicotine’s effects on the body, the work of Sir Richard Doll – the first scientist to discover the link between smoking and lung diseases in 1954 – and brought us to the present day with the introduction of nicotine patches and vaping.

Harry’s talk focused not only on the science of nicotine, but also encompassed many other topics, including stories of Bedales past, the difficulty of learning German and the witty quotes of Mark Twain.

The next Lunchtime Lecture take place on 12 November, when Dr Tim Mason of Portsmouth University will speak on ‘Edward Jenner and the Story of Vaccines’.

Biodiversity update – Moths

By Mary Shotter, Biology Technician

Moths are declining in the UK. Studies have found the overall number of moths has decreased by 28 percent since 1968. The situation is particularly bad in southern Britain, where moth numbers are down by 40 percent. Many individual species have declined dramatically in recent decades and over 60 became extinct in the 20th century.

These alarming decreases in moth populations are not just bad news for the moths themselves, but also have worrying implications for the rest of our wildlife. Moths and their caterpillars are important food items for many other species, including amphibians, small mammals, bats and many bird species.

The reasons for the loss of moths are likely to be many and complex, including changes in the way we manage our gardens, pesticides, herbicides and light pollution. Climate change appears to also be affecting moths.

However at Bedales moths appear to be doing very well. Over the last few months, I have been putting out a ‘light trap’ once a week to attract moths and have so far found just over 100 species, including 4 types of hawkmoth – elephant, pine, poplar and the giant privet hawkmoth which has a 12cm wingspan.

Many of the moth species we have at Bedales are masters of camouflage – such as the Buff tip, which disguises itself as a birch twig and the Flame which has evolved to resemble a broken stick.

My favourite to date has to be the wonderfully named Merveille du Jour which translates roughly as ‘the best thing I’ve seen all day’ –  pictured above (bottom right) merging into lichen on a fence behind the science department.

Many moth caterpillars feed on grasses and it appears that the policy of keeping  areas around the school uncut is reaping rewards for both moths and the many other species that depend on them.

Students hear from leading Oxford researcher on cell regeneration

By Liz Stacy, Head of Chemistry

Giving students the opportunity to see science in action is not easy during these strange times, but the University of Oxford did a brilliant job this week by holding a virtual chemistry conference.

Sixth Form chemists and biologists were treated to an excellent talk by Professor Angela Russell, on the subject of ‘Cures from within: can we use chemistry to teach the body to heal itself?’ Her research is looking into creating a molecule that can stimulate the body’s own ability to regenerate cells. Her target disease is Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which primarily affects boys; those with the condition are unlikely to live beyond their early twenties due to the muscle degeneration that affects organs, including the heart and diaphragm.

Angela took us through the breakthroughs and setbacks she has experienced, as well as the direction in which the research is currently heading, which looks very positive. It is a hugely significant area of research as it opens up the door to being able to use the same kind of treatment for diseases like Alzheimer’s. 

Angela talked about setting up a private company, highlighting the importance of the link between academia and the private sector in being able to bring this kind of research to life.  Most importantly, when asked about which degree is best to study, she said that in her opinion Chemistry was much more useful than Biochemistry or Medicine for this particular area of research. Please make a note of that all Sixth Form chemists!

Bedales, biodiversity and lockdown

Biodiversity

By Cheryl Osborne, Teacher of Biology

Lockdown will be one of those defining moments. We will all remember where we were and what we were doing. For me, it will be the transition from standing in front of a class of children in my lab, to sitting staring at a computer screen on my sofa – an alien world and one that I am not enjoying! However, it hasn’t all been bad. The stillness and quiet has let nature be heard and during lockdown both Mary Shotter, our Biology technician, and I have immersed ourselves in it.

Mary has taken a biodiversity study of the Bedales site, and I have been taking photos of the wildflowers during my daily walks in the vicinity of Bedales. From these walks, I have put together some wildflower quizzes that have been available on the B-More Teams channel. I have really learnt a lot doing this and seen flowers that I hadn’t noticed before. My husband and I have been lucky, living close to school and the Ashford Hangers. The unnerving quiet of a deserted A3, which we walked over daily in those early days, allowed the birds and the rustling of the trees to be heard and heightened our awareness of nature all around.

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Block 3 explore ecosystems for Ecology project

Ecology 1

By Cheryl Osborne, Teacher of Biology

In the five weeks before half term, Block 3 students were engaged in a project for Biology, researching an ecosystem. They chose their own ecosystems, which ranged from rainforests to cold deserts, coral reefs to wetlands. They were asked to identify three habitats within their ecosystem, to look at the biotic and abiotic factors affecting each habitat, and then finally to look at the adaptations of three organisms within each habitat.

The project enabled students to be independent in their learning and to be creative. They learnt research skills and the need to reference the websites that they used. Those who looked at the marking criteria carefully performed really well. The projects were presented as PowerPoints, word documents, posters and even a website (which can be accessed here).

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Block 3 get creative for Atomic Models Project

Atomic-Models-lrg

By Olly Hoult, Teacher of Chemistry

This week the Chemistry Department instructed Block 3 to construct models an atom and an ion as part of the Atomic Structure and the Periodic Table topic. What makes Chemistry such a challenging subject is that it involves studying a broad range of abstract concepts. Learning about atoms and ions is an example of this.

The building blocks of the universe are so small they are almost impossible to visualise. Therefore scientists use models to help conceptualise the mysterious quantum world. The model of the atom is ever evolving as scientists produce new experiments which question previously accepted theory. We believe model building is a necessary tool in science teaching as it gives students a more authentic experience of the scientific process while as teachers it gives a more detailed insight into what students have learned from this topic. In these challenging times of remote learning we also felt the task was useful as an exercise to get students off their screens and really let their creativity take over.

Joel Edgeworth has this to say about his model: “For my atomic model project I made a neutral neon atom and a positively charge Sodium ion. For my project I used pizza boxes and the stands which the pizzas are held on. I made two models for each particle, the nucleus and the electronic configuration, and I used a tea grain to show the relative size of a nucleus in proportion to the rest of the atom / ion.”

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How effective are travel restrictions in stopping the spread of COVID-19?

By Yaya Caird, 6.2

Right now, more than 90% of the world’s population are living under travel restrictions. These restrictions have heavily affected people’s lives financially, socially and mentally.

So, is the travel ban actually effective in stopping, or at least reducing the spread of COVID-19?

Travel bans range from restricting movement within the country or travelling internationally.

When the severity of COVID-19 was first globally known after its first death on the 10th of January, there were already 41 clinically confirmed conditions reported.

By the 22nd of January there was 571 confirmed cases and 17 deaths reported, with cases already reported in other countries (such as Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and the United States, shown in the image below)

Yaya 1

At 2am the next day, the Wuhan authorities issued a notice of the travel ban that would be set at 10am. However, before 10:00 an estimated 300,000 people had left Wuhan – this figure was fuelled by the wishes of the population to be with their families for the Chinese New Year happening 2 days later. Within a day after this lockdown was set, 24 other cities in the vicinity of Wuhan also went into lockdown.

Although the travel ban didn’t manage to contain all people within the city, it definitely played a very important role in decreasing the rate of the spread drastically.

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