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!
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.”
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!
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.
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.
Last Wednesday there was a 3i/science lecture given by Dr Tim Mason on the subject of Edward Jenner and the development of vaccines.
As with all of Dr Mason’s lectures, this was a rich mix of social history and scientific information and it traced the early origins of the Variola viruses and the evidence for early smallpox outbreaks worldwide.
Benjamin Jesty and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu played important roles in the work that eventually led to Edward Jenner trying out his vaccine on James Phipps. Dr Mason took us right up to the present day, where the smallpox is eradicated worldwide, with only a few samples safely (we hope!) held in labs.
This was a really well attended event and we are once again grateful to Dr Mason for such an excellent evening.
The next evening, 6.1 Biologists visited St Swithun’s, where there was a ‘Meet the Scientist’ evening. Students heard an inspiring talk by a young physicist who described her scientific journey from Cyprus to Germany to England and the trials and tribulations of working on new projects in new countries.
Afterwards, there was the opportunity to meet and hold discussions with a range of scientists – including a surgeon, marine ecologists, neurologist and more – to find out about their own work and hear about their own journeys. It was a useful and stimulating event that introduced students to a range of new opportunities.