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!
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.
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).
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.”
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)
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.
Last Saturday was Bedales Pre-prep, Dunannie’s STEM themed Open Morning. Five of our Block 5 students – Rhiannon Griffith, Milo Whittle, Ben Bradberry, Mabel Watson and Athena Lucas – filled their lab coat pockets full of chocolates (the one and only time they will be allowed to put food in a lab coat!) and headed down to Dunannie to help the children with their science experiments.
There was an amazing range of experiments on offer, from making lava lamps using immiscible liquids and building circuits to power buzzers, to programming the Beebot robots to move and light up on command and looking at field line patterns using magnets. The students were tasked with judging each exhibit on presentation and also the scientific knowledge of the children manning the experiment. They also fielded questions from prospective parents about what studying at Bedales was like and the excellent opportunities on offer for students interested in pursuing science. I thought Milo was maybe a bit harsh giving one small six-year-old five out of ten for scientific knowledge – he did award a lot of chocolate though!
On 24 January, 6.2 Physics students were fortunate enough to travel to the largest laboratory for particle research to date – the Conseil Européen Pour La Recherche Nucléaire (CERN) in Geneva. It provides physicists with the ability to accelerate particles to approximately 1.08 billion kilometres per hour, while then observing the results of their collisions.
The first day saw us visiting the Red Cross Museum, an exhibition dedicated to the international humanitarian organisation that brings relief to people in the event of war or natural disaster. In the evening, we visited the History of Science Museum in Lake Side Park. On display were over 800 instruments, mainly used by Swiss scientists, dating back to the 17th century.
Over the past few weeks, in collaboration with a group of Block 3 Outdoor Work students and the Sustainability Group, we have begun the huge task of cataloguing the school’s biodiversity.
We started with the Lake, where we discovered 28 different species of freshwater animals, including water boatmen, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, whirlgig beetles and flatworms. A walk around the centre of the site revealed 38 species of tree and 19 birds, such as the green woodpecker and nuthatch. The use of a moth trap also showed there were 14 moth species in the wildlife garden behind the Science department, which is remarkable, considering it is late in the year.
To fend off the global warming crisis, we need to appeal to the hottest place on earth. The sun’s core is 10 million degrees, but in the Joint European Torus (JET) at Culham, the doughnut-shaped plasma in the reactor consistently reaches temperatures of over 100 million degrees to initiate nuclear fusion between hydrogen isotopes and release enormous quantities of energy. The hydrogen is sourced from seawater, and there are no harmful waste products. What is not to like? Unfortunately, it’s fiendishly difficult to achieve.
The Sixth Form physicists visited JET last week, for an inspiring tour and lectures. The scientists and engineers explained the current developments of this futuristic technology, which has come a long way since its inception in 1983, and has inspired the next generation of fusion reactors, driving the plasma science and fusion research. Ground-breaking and innovative engineering solutions are necessary for the magnetic containment, keeping the super-heated plasma just metres from the surrounding vacuum at almost zero, to harness this potentially limitless resource.
Biologists in 6.1 travelled to the Apollo Theatre in London to hear a series of lectures by some of the country’s leading scientists as part of A Level Biology Live.
First was 2009 Nobel Prize winner and President of the Royal Society, Professor Sir Venki Ramakrishnan (pictured above), whose many scientific contributions include his work on the atomic structure of ribosomes. Ribosomes exist in their millions in every cell, and are the site where genetic information is read to synthesise proteins from amino acids. He began work on ribosomes in the late 1970s and eventually discovered their complex three-dimensional structure in 2000, with the aid of X-ray crystallography.
Next, Professor Robert Winston – who was the Bedales Eckersley Lecture speaker in 2013 – spoke about manipulating human reproduction, from his work in vitro fertilisation, through to regenerative medicine such as stem cell research and epigenetics, which may turn out to be the most important biological development in the years to come. However, he warned that manipulating the human will always be dangerous, uncertain and unpredictable.