Celebrating Science Week at The Perse
26 Mar 2014
Pupils and staff at The Perse threw themselves into all manner of science and technology-based activities in celebration of Science Week and the University of Cambridge Science Festival. There have been fascinating talks from visiting speakers, experiments with chocolate, a visit from Zoolab and a fantastic trip to the Babraham Institute. In our special House science quizzes, congratulations go to Gonville Griffins for winning the Lower School quiz, and to Glebe Falcons who triumphed in the Middle School.
The first foray into Science Week began with a visit to the NEC in Birmingham to the Big Bang Fair. Being the largest celebration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics for young people in the UK, there was a huge range of activities and talks for students to get engaged with.
Science Week at The Perse was officially kicked off with a visit from Zoolab who came to the Biology Department to give a series of presentations to Year 7 on the subject of classification. This supported the work the students have been doing in their biology lessons and enabled them to see some of the animals that are in the different phyla and classes. Students had the opportunity to handle giant African land snails, stick insects, Madagascan hissing cockroaches and a beautiful Californian corn snake. They also observed at close quarters the Chilean Rose Tarantula and a delicate tree frog. The students were all keen to hold the animals and to look at the different features which allow biologists to classify them.
Two special ‘42’ lectures were also held. On Tuesday, pupils welcomed Professor Ed Anderson from the University of Oxford. His fascinating talk entitled “Red hot chilli peppers: what’s hot in organic chemistry?” covered the hot topics in organic chemistry, and also involved testing how good our taste-buds were when tasting chilli extractions of various strengths. He also gave a separate lecture to the Lower Sixth pupils in the afternoon on his current research. On Wednesday, Dr Colm Durkan from the University of Cambridge came in to give a fascinating talk on how developments in Physics have led to the development of Nanotechnology. It was amazing to find out how many uses it already has in everyday items.
On Wednesday, seven Upper Sixth biologists enjoyed visiting the Babraham Institute to take part in the annual Babraham Schools Day, on what was the 20th anniversary of the event. The students had the opportunity to work with senior researchers and students from other schools on projects such as examining gene regulation in stem cells and epigenetic modification of the genome. The students really enjoyed using new techniques and equipment and experiencing working within a busy research laboratory.
Meanwhile in the Chemistry Department, all week, pupils have been given the chance to take part in lessons a little different from the normal curriculum. Year 7 made ‘rainbow fish’ by using the indicating properties of red cabbage, Year 8 have been looking at what makes chocolate so tasty, and staying with the food theme, Year 9 made organic solar cells using raspberries, spinach and fruit tea, while Year 10 looked at qualitative analysis in practice by solving a crime scene! In physics, year 8 students celebrated Science Week by designing, building and testing systems to safely return delicate scientific instruments to Earth following a space mission. They are currently studying the Space topic and used a variety of ideas: some chose to use the air resistance due to the Earth’s atmosphere and favoured a parachute design, while others padded their cargo and used a crumple zone to absorb the kinetic energy as it hit the ground. They tested their designs by successfully (in some cases) dropping a boiled egg to Earth unharmed.
Our sixth form students were delighted to welcome Dr Guy Sutton from Medical Biology Interactive on Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday saw Dr Sutton conduct a health and disease day with our Lower Sixth students, which involved lectures on health, illness, and prevention and treatment of genetic and complex diseases and was supported by using interactive web-based materials. The following day, Dr Sutton gave a series of lectures to our Upper Sixth biologists on the anatomy of the brain, genes and brain development and the effect of drugs on the brain. He completed the sessions with a dissection of a sheep brain and the students were able to handle the intact brain and the various parts once dissected. Dr Sutton is a guest lecturer at Nottingham medical school and the students found him to be a most passionate, engaging and inspirational speaker. These days are now annual fixtures in the Biology calendar and really serve to extend our sixth form biologists.
Thursday saw our Upper Sixth physicists venture to the Cavendish Laboratory for a high energy master-class on particle physics, which consisted of a series of lectures and practical sessions. The lectures included a good overview of the current areas of research in particle physics, at a level that was accessible to our students, as well as broader questions such as ‘why the universe shouldn’t exist’. In the practical sessions they got to see some of the equipment and experiments in use in a top level research department, whilst having the opportunity to ask lots of thought-provoking questions.
And it doesn’t end there! On Saturday, a group of Perse students presented their work at Schools Zone (part of the University of Cambridge Science Festival) alongside many other schools, including one from Japan. One presented his research on Cosmic Rays and a relativistic effect (done for an HPQ) and several had written their own brilliant computer games which were very popular with the public. We finish the slightly extended ‘week’ with a wide˗ranging talk on the Moon Landings by our very own teacher, Chris Ingram, who also talked to the whole school about thinking scientifically.
This has been a fantastic, thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable week for students and staff alike – whether biologist, chemist, computer programmer, engineer, physicist or technologist!