“Let me show you something I’ve been working recently, you’re going to be impressed…” teased Dr Mackay as we suddenly found ourselves zooming into that most familiar of structures, the double helix, but with an entirely new *twist*. And so began the BWS Science enrichment in mid-September with a delve into the developing field of epigenetics, this was to be one of our several dozen external guests this year and with the restrictions of COVID behind us we’ve been breaking new ground with fabulous enrichment since.
Dr Mackay – BAYS talk on Epigenetics
Prof Zervas (father of outgoing BAYS prefect) – BAYS talk on the Fibre LASER
We give thanks to the very capable and ruthlessly organised BAYS (British Association of Young Scientists) prefects, Demetra Zerva and Barnaby Knight, who helped us deliver a fascinating programme of speakers open to sixth form and year 11s. We always aim to cover a range of fields but the biologists were particularly treated this year with guests as broad as Ciara McCarthy, virologist and covid-expert, Prof. Buggs, senior research lead in plant health, and Paul Howe ecologist and urban planner. The medics, who have their own society of speakers, were able to see a little cross-over too with superb talks from Dr Mackay, epigeneticist, and Dr Kirk the founder of the HealthBus charity. As a Physicist I was beginning to worry we were being overlooked until the literally explosive arrival of Prof Zervas from Southampton University who took us through his revolutionary work on the development of the fibre LASER, as well as Dr Crespo about the future of vehicle technology and fuels to lead us into the next generation. Middle school have the opportunity to hear from some outstanding scientists including Professor Robert Winston and Professor Jim Al-Khalili at the annual GCSE Science Live conference in Bristol.
Mrs Beer demonstrating digestive enzymes
Not content with the already busy BAYS schedule Mr Holzer helped reinvigorate our already previously successful year 12 STEM Careers Day in March. This event saw 15 real live scientists in school, all at once, for a hectic afternoon of selling their careers to the masses. We firmly believe in the merits of students hearing from career scientists and the breadth of possible fields is one thing which often comes as a shock to many of our sixth form, indeed with professionals from Wessex Water (Kimberley Lamb - a former student), Adrian Burrows (Civil air crash investigator), Prof Collingridge (Editor-in-Chief of Lancet Oncology), Veronica Bowman (Principle Statistician at DSTL) and Neil Smith (Science Illustrator), to name but a few, there was a real glimpse that STEM careers can be for anyone, even those who might not currently be studying a traditional science A-level. It is always a thrilling site to see a sea of hands once a speaker has finished delivering their talk, even if sometimes we need to step in and let our visiting guest a moments respite, and we could not deliver any of this without the generosity of time our speakers provide. To everyone who came to BWS this year we give huge thanks in stimulating the minds of our students and challenging them to extend beyond their curriculum studies.
Year 13 forming nylon threads
In all three sciences we love to provide our students the opportunity to really stretch their knowledge and put their problem solving to the test, one terrific way of achieving this are the annual Olympiad events which are run by a consortium of employers and academics. In the senior challenges (accessible to 6th form) the results have been one of our best crops yet, and in total across all year groups we have had nearly 200 students compete, a real display of their drive and willingness to be challenged. Some tremendous results have flooded in subsequently and we provide a brief overview below with some names for the absolutely stellar performers. The Senior Olympiad was a particularly strong showing in chemistry with 10 gold medals, 19 silvers and 20 bronzes awarded, the boys spurred along by additional support sessions offered by the chemistry staff. More recently the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge saw 5 copper, 14 silvers, 11 gold and 1 Roentgenium award – this final accolade goes to only the top 0.71% of the already self-selecting national cohort and is an absolutely impressive feat, well done to Jude Murray who secured the top medal. The challenging Physics Olympiad resulted in 5 gold medals, 4 silver and 2 bronzes with Jake Fellows scoring a mark which came just two points close of the opportunity to represent the nation in further competitions. The Biologists have of course been busy too, students in the intermediate challenge achieved 6 golds, 6 silver and 6 bronze with the Senior Olympiad resulting in 2 golds and 2 silvers. In the Biology challenge, for year 10 students, the boys amassed 4 gold medals, 22 silvers and 36 bronzes, another excellent haul. A new opportunity arose with the national scientific thinking award which was on offer for the first time, and in the inaugural event BWS secured 16 golds, 4 silver and a bronze with year 10 students competition in their own time.
6th Form students completing a range of practical activities
The opportunities for experimental work have exploded this year with many organisations keen to make up lost ground following covid. We in science have put ourselves, and the students, forward as often as we can. After winning a nationwide ballot to be one of 300 schools chosen to enter the 2022 Royal Society of Chemistry Schools’ Analysts Challenge, 30 of our year 12s had the opportunity to put their analytical chemistry skills to the test to find the formula for the best fish and chips. All our teams worked in their free time to complete practical tasks and analyse and evaluate the results. The organisers report that the standards were very high. Our winning team was made up of Liam Childers, Thomas James, and Lizzie Norton. Sadly, we did not go through to the national finals, but we were impressed by their dedication. In December 2021, Cameron Dow, Hari Chowdhury, Ghin Choi and Nicholas Plummer worked as a team to complete a series of timed challenges set by the Royal Society of Chemistry in the Top of the Bench Competition. Overall, they came third, with the first three teams separated by only two points. It was impressive to see students from years 9, 10 and 11, working together to problem solve and they achieved a very respectable position. We’ve also been visited by Dr Eddie Henbury, purveyor of all things whizz and bang who gave an excellent, and fiery, presentation covering topics from the physics and chemistry GCSE to year 9 and 10.
6th Form students completing a range of practical activities
Much to the alarm of Mrs Mesnard our psychology department continues to grow each year and we now have 100 students studying across years 12 and 13 combined, they are of course always welcomed into the science block, even if it is almost bursting at the seams! The psychologists have been treated to their own list of additional inspiring speaks including Dr Buckley, a psychiatrist working with schizophrenic patients, and Dr Farrington, a criminal psychologist who provided insight into the fascinating world of crime prediction working with tracking criminal activity and discovering the risk factors than link to offending. In March we held a joint “Brain Day” with Godolphin School hosted by Dr Guy Sutton which included the opportunity for students to learn all about the brain in relation to mental disorders as well as a brain dissection of a sheep, a gory but absolutely unforgettable opportunity.
Eddie Henbury – STEM Ambassador and general pyrotechnic
Finally, and never ones to be overlooked our Geologists have been busy in the field with the possibility of trips once more on the cards, despite the challenges of slow ferries and sometimes dismal weather the year 13 class were able to enjoy a beautifully sunny day investigating the active landslides of the southern Isle of Wight amongst other locations along the always impressive Jurassic Coast, yet another year without any dinosaur fossils discovered however!
The long summer break offers invariably offers the chance to relax and enjoy the weather but for an increasing number of students it is also a valuable and impactful way to strengthen university applications and broaden horizons by joining summer placements. This year we have students shadowing research scientists and academics in a range of fields, supported where we have contacts, in areas of chemistry, biology, physics and even beyond the core sciences as engineers and more. Well done to the keen students who explore these routes and commit to spending their breaks volunteering and learning. University application numbers in the sciences have always been extremely high and they are only continuing to grow, every place is a success for the student involved but of course applicants to certain pathways have a particularly challenging field to compete against and with numbers constrained, again the lingering effects of covid due to deferred entry, we are particularly proud to celebrate our successful applicants to Oxbridge, including several to study engineering, pure Physicists, Natural Sciences and three successful Oxbridge Medics, the uber-competitive course, in the form of Tanay, Marni and Jasper – a huge congratulations to you, and all sixth form taking up university and industry placement.
Summer STEM club has been a roaring success with year 7 and 8 students invited to sign up to a range of activities run in lunch by the science staff, these sessions have including making their own batteries, developing colourful indictors and even a particularly slimy quid dissection – quite a few of lower school were *suckered* into that one. Many thanks to the staff who have given their time to deliver exciting and unusual opportunities.
Lower school squid dissections in STEM Club