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.”

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.

Biology department marks Parents’ Day

By Mary Shotter, Biology technician

Following on from this year’s Eckersley Lecture on the History of the Periodic Table by Dr Peter Wothers, this year the theme of the Biology department’s Parents’ Day display was The Elements of Life, which looked at how individual chemical elements were used in the natural world.

In the lab there was the chance to make slides to view under the microscope and see the myriad of microscopic creatures found in pond water, test your grip strength (won, as always, by Sam Wilson in 6.2), check your lung volume and blood oxygen levels, and test your speed using a reaction timer.

Most popular of all, though, was a chance to see if you were ‘one in a million’ by trying out a series of genetic tests where people looked at a number of their own physical traits – for example, whether they could smell freesias, taste the bitter chemical found in sprouts or roll their tongue. Results ranged from being one in 31 to one in 2 million!

It was particularly nice to meet up with several Old Bedalians who came back to see us and who have gone on have very successful careers in the field of biology including Gary Skinner (OB 1992), who specialises in the use of DNA as a digital storage device and whose father, also Gary, was a previous Head of Biology and Science. We were also visited by the daughter of another former Head of Biology, Andrew Routh, who at 95 was keen to find out how the department had changed over the years.

It was a lovely day and a pleasure to welcome so many, old and new, to explore the world of Bedales Biology.