The Perse School

Perse students represent the City of Cambridge at International Science School

5 Oct 2016

This summer, Perse Students Emma Brass and Pratap Singh (Year 13) travelled to Heidelberg in Germany to take part in a wide range of research and natural science projects.

Here are some highlights from their four week trip.

Emma Brass explains more..

We spent a day in a biology lab using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique to create thousands of copies of a single piece of DNA.

Another day we were at the Max Plank Institute of Astronomy, learning about their many telescopes and exploring the universe via their planetarium.  At the Max Plank Institute of Particle Physics, we received a tour of their facilities, made our own cloud chamber for observing charged particles and sampled ice cream made using liquid nitrogen.

The first weekend we took a scenic boat trip to a nearby town, Neckagemünd.

We spent the next three weeks carrying out separate research projects under the supervision of world-class scientists.

I spent my time in the Chemical Biology Core Facility at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory.  The group conducts enzyme assays using high-throughput screening.  This effectively means that they use robots to very rapidly assess thousands of different compounds, to see how effective they are at inhibiting an enzyme’s activity.  The facility had just brought in a new batch of 18,000 compounds, and needed to screen them to see which ones were effective in inhibiting an enzyme known as Factor Xa.  This is an enzyme that assists in blood clotting.

We were able to learn about the machines they use and watch them operate, and then helped in analysing the data they produced.  Once we had found which compounds were the best Factor Xa inhibitors, we were able to model them using a 3D molecular modelling software called SybylX.

Pratap Singh explains more about his work…

I did my research project at the Heidelberg Centre for Quantum Dynamics, which is part of the University of Heidelberg, under the supervision of Dr Shannon Whitlock.  Dr Whitlock’s group uses atoms at ultra-cold temperatures to investigate quantum mechanics, the physics of the very small.

Optics are a crucial part of these experiments, with lasers being used to cool and trap the atoms and also to make them fluoresce for imaging. We measured the distribution of intensity (a measure of brightness) in the laser beam by moving a razor blade through the beam and measuring the intensity with different amounts of the beam blocked.

On the Thursday of the second week we all regrouped to spend some time together at Schwetzingen Palace.  We toured around the beautiful and expansive 18th Century gardens, and finished with a lovely meal at a nearby restaurant.

During the second weekend, we went on two excursions.  On Saturday, we took a train to the picturesque nearby town of Speyer.    On Sunday evening, we had the chance to attend a concert at Heidelberg’s famous Castle Festival, where the Heidelberg Philharmonic Orchestra performed an entertaining and varied programme of theme music from classic films like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Ghostbusters in the courtyard of Heidelberg Castle.
On Sunday, we rented bikes from the city. The cycle path took us through some fields and along the Neckar River. It was a wonderful experience for us both and we learned so much.

Many thanks to Cambridge City Council for their generous support in making this opportunity available.


The International Summer Science School Heidelberg (ISH), a program designed for young people who are interested in the natural sciences and come from one of Heidelberg’s many sister cities around the world.  Perse Students Emma Brass and Pratap Singh were the two students representing Cambridge, UK.  There were also participants from Israel, Australia, Japan, the USA, and Bautzen (another city in Germany).  

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