Eye-opening lectures for Biologists and Psychologists

By Lauren MacMillan and Molly Graham, 6.1

Last Friday, the 6.1 biologists visited Portsmouth University for a biology conference. The first lecture was on Biomedical Science, ‘Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia’ by Gavin Knight; specifically focusing on how Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia forms in people. We learnt about the DNA changes which cause the disease and how the cancer process is not just one change but many in a row which leads to the cancer.

The second lecture was on epigenetics, a topic we have been studying in AS biology, delivered by Dr Tim Hebbes. He talked about the new possibilities that epigenetics provides in personal healthcare and how new discoveries in epigenetics is changing our understanding of DNA and genetic inheritance due to our environment and not just the genome.

Those studying Psychology also attended a lecture on the ‘Psychology of Beauty’ by Dr Ed Morrison where we learnt about how we perceive beauty and the changes in our environment that cause beauty as well as how beauty varies across cultures. The lecture was very eye opening and fascinating.

The rest of the biologists attended the last lecture on medicine as sport given by Dr Zoe Saynor and Dr Ant Shepherd, it was a very engaging lecture with lots of audience participation. It opened our eyes to the opportunities that are available from optimising the performance of professional athletes to helping children with chronic diseases in day to day life.

Observatory and New College of the Humanities lecture trips

Gemma Klein Photography

By Richard Sinclair, Head of Science

It has been a busy week for Bedales Science, a small group of students visited the nearby Observatory at Clanfield on Friday and despite the poor weather had an excellent evening touring the three large observatories and learning about the telescopes (a 5” Thomas Cooke refractor, a 7” Starfire refractor and the latest addition – a 24” reflecting telescope). It was a History, Engineering and Astronomy lesson rolled into one, and the knowledge and enthusiasm of the guides was exceptional. The lecture on ‘observing the night sky’ was truly fascinating and given by an enthusiast with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the skies.

On Monday, a group of 6.1 students (3i and Biologists) visited the New College of the Humanities for an evening lecture by Professor Richard Dawkins. After an introduction by A.C.Grayling, who reminded us of the importance of an understanding of Science to an educated mind, Professor Dawkins gave a wide-ranging talk, the overall theme of which was how strange and wonderful the world is when looked at from a scientific perspective. Quantum mechanics, Chemistry, lots of Animal Physiology and of course, Evolution were all brought in to a mixture of scientific fact, theory, conjecture and interesting quotations. The level of the delivery was very well judged and the lengthy Q & A session at the end was most thought-provoking. A very interesting and successful event.

Bedales Brain Day

By Lauren MacMillan, 6.1

On Tuesday, Dr Guy Sutton, Director of Medical Biology Interactive, gave several lectures on the human brain, focusing on forensic psychology and the criminal mind. He discussed mental health problems and abnormal brain structure as causes of crime, which creates ethical issues and debate around the sanity of offenders and leads to the argument of whether they should be answerable for their crimes in the first place.

One of the lectures involved the area of Criminal Profiling where there is a large difference in the way Americans and Europeans approach the topic. Europe goes for a more statistical and evidenced based approach, whereas Americans tend to use behavioural analysis of the crime scene and their experience to create a criminal profile.

A History of Mental Health and the treatments that were once used was also an essential part of the day and we learned how treatment has improved and the conditions and attitudes towards mental health are also changing. There were mentions of the Nature/Nurture debate and how epigenetics has changed how we view the argument; knowing that the environment can change our genetics and our brain structure means that both have a large impact on our behaviour.

It was a very enjoyable day that caused us, as students, to think more like degree psychologists rather than AS or A level students – and to think about the bigger picture.

GSCE Science Live – Oxford visit


By Alex Lunn, Block 4

Science Live, held just before half term, was certainly an interesting trip. The coach journey was surprisingly easy and, even though Oxford was rife with manic bicycles, no pedestrians were harmed and we got to the theatre safely.

The first talk, by Professor Steve Jones, was fascinating. It involved both bodybuilding and Siamese cats linked by the amazing world of genetics. Next, Professor Jim Al-Khalili confused us all over the possibility of time travel, explaining the different physical challenges and logical paradoxes of going forwards and backwards in time – mind blowing!

Professor Robert Winston amazed us with the peculiar habits of sea urchins and some of the ways he has furthered fertility research over the past 20 years. He also raised the ethical issues associated with ‘designer’ babies and the possibility of transhumanism.

Lunch was a stressful ordeal – it was debatable if some people would make it back in time for the afternoon lectures, especially with large ‘mighty meaty’ pizzas which had to be eaten in 25 minutes!

During the afternoon, we listened to lectures from Dr Kate Lancaster aka ‘mission for fusion’ discussing the state of nuclear fusion research across the globe and finally Dr Ben Goldacre the author of Bad Science took to the stage. We were all fully attentive for his startling screams and frightening facts and will be more discriminating about the scientific-sounding ‘facts’ we believe in, in the future.

The trip to Science Live was a memorable experience; one that I am sure everyone enjoyed. Many thanks to the science teachers – who appeared to be in pain with laughter at the geeky jokes throughout!


Swiss snow, physics and protons


By Winnie Guo and Harry Green, 6.2

Last Friday the 6.2 physicists set off to Geneva, Switzerland.

We visited the History of Science Museum on the first day which was on the frozen icy banks of Lake Geneva. Saturday was spent at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research where they operate the largest particle physics laboratory in the world and focus on research in fundamental physics.

We visited various departments in CERN and got a chance to talk to the researchers. The excellent displays and presentations were very helpful for understanding the principles behind the processes used to recreate the conditions just moments after the ‘Big Bang’ and generate and detect exotic particles including the elusive Higgs Boson. The many stages of accelerator feeding the Large Hadron Collider took protons to 99.999% of the speed of light before colliding them head-on.

The technology needed to keep the particles on track, and to make them move with the necessary precision, required super conducting magnets and electronic feedback control systems – and this interested us the most. We toured SM18 (the world’s leading magnet test facility) and discussed the implications of developing high temperature superconductors.

On the third day we also went to the UN buildings and the International Red Cross Museum before a trip to the snowy Jura Mountain where we had lots of fun. It was a brilliant trip – many thanks to the Physics Department and Vikki Alderson-Smart!

Chemistry in Action for 6.1s


Head of Chemistry, Emily Seeber: On Wednesday 23 November, 6.1 chemists headed to UCL for a day of inspiring lectures on various aspects of chemistry which are beyond the scope of the A-level specification. We also had a brief talk on exam technique from a chief examiner, and I was pleased that she echoed all the advice that we give to students on a regular basis: read questions carefully, break them down, annotate them with hints, be specific with the terminology or formulae that you give, etc. The students have written short summaries of each of the topics below…

Ed Adams and Jasper Oltmanns: The first talk was held by John Nicholson from St Mary’s University, Twickenham and was based on the use of poisons. He described a history of murders and serial killers over the last 100 years that used poison, including the forensic case built up against the notorious Harold Shipman. He gave an introduction on how to kill someone with table salt and a demonstration showing which forms of diamorphine would disappear without a trace once the subject reaches their end…

Molly Graham and Alice Lester: We then had a talk by University of Surrey nanochemist, Sujata Kundu, about living in a materials world; it was a lively and gripping lecture that got everyone involved as she was a good presenter who knew how to keep the audience involved. She explained various possibilities for the future, such as a lift into space, whilst showing what is possible now and the advances she is making in her own field.

George Peattie: In ‘The Science of Scent’ Principal Scientist at Proctor and Gamble, Will Andrews, talked about making perfumes. We were shown how to create artificial scents, and also to extract natural scents using gas chromatography. We were given samples of scents to smell during the lecture which overall built up to give us the odour of Coca Cola: orange and lime form the top notes, cinnamon forms the heart of the scent and vanillin is the base.

Izzy Milford and Lauren MacMillan: After that we had a series of lively demonstrations on chemistry you can do with items in your kitchen: from changing water to apple juice then to coke, to rockets firing across the stage. The speaker, Stephen Ashworth from University of East Anglia, also talked to us about our bodies being good electrical conductors and demonstrated this using a human circuit on stage to play Coldplay through the sound system, as well as making square bubbles.

George Ford and Joe Murray: Our final oration was delivered by Peter Wothers from the University of Cambridge on the topic of ‘God, the Devils and Alcohol’. This was a wide-ranging, shampoo-inspired lecture on the origins of chemical names and alchemical symbols, supplemented with Greek and Roman mythology, medieval art, Arabic science and sex and scandal. We learned that the original metals known by the Greeks were named after planets, and that Lavoisier named oxygen and hydrogen the wrong way round. There are also chemicals in shampoo which derive their names from the camel urine they were historically extracted from, or a particularly interesting variety of orchid named the ‘testiculus canis’.

…After all this excitement we ate lots of pizza and discussed the lectures, before heading back to Petersfield…

A visit to: Wired Next Generation Day


By Lara Loasby, Block 4

Wired Next Generation Day is an annual event put on by the innovation and technology magazine Wired, to inspire teenagers to experiment with and learn about the latest technologies. They have on average 15 speakers, ranging from an international drone racer to a memory scientist to topics on animation and CGI at Pixar. They also have a room filled with different interactive displays, such as an interactive ultrasound hologram that will be used for advertisements and has been sold to Crypton Future Media for hologram concerts.

The talk I most enjoyed was by Heston Blumenthal on the science of taste. During the talk he made us all take a glass of Coke and look at two screens, one had ‘Coke’ written in spiky bold writing and the other had ‘Coke’ written in soft bubble-style writing. He told us to take a sip whilst looking at one of the two screens, and when we looked at the screen with the spiky writing the Coke tasted almost sour and when we looked at the bubble writing it tasted even sweeter than normal. He explained that this was because our senses work in a specific order, sight, sound, smell, touch and then taste so the way that something looks or smells can greatly affect the way that we taste food, which I found really interesting.

Another talk that I really enjoyed was by Julia Shaw who was a memory scientist specialising in manipulating memories. She told us that she could delete memories or create them, and that this was not a special skill. “You do it all the time” she said, and then proceeded with examples of when she, as a teacher, asked students to write about their favourite moment of the holidays. When she was creating memories, she changed at least one specific detail of the students’ memories and with some she wrote a new one. When she gave them back to the students, none of them realised that anything had been changed, and when she asked some of the students who had had theirs completely re-written, she was surprised to find that they could tell her about the event that she made up for them in startling detail –  even though that event had never happened.

There were many other fascinating talks, for example a bionic arm builder and Pixar’s leading animator – all in all it was an amazing day and I really loved it.

World expert in paediatric nutrition returns to Bedales

Gemma Klein Photography

Prof. Alan Lucas and former teacher, Andrew Routh

We were delighted to welcome Professor Alan Lucas, Old Bedalian, back to school last week to give a Civics lecture entitled:  “A personal adventure in early nutrition and early life influences”. Alan founded the Child Nutrition Research Centre at the Institute of Child Health in London, where he is now professor of paediatric nutrition. It became evident during his talk that his work and determination have led to substantial advances, even upheavals, in our understanding of the effects of paediatric nutrition on conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

His use of randomised trials to investigate, for example, the effects of breast milk vs formula milk and the effects of various nutritional regimes on the long term health of individuals were both remarkable, and a revelation.

Alan reminisced warmly about his years (from 1956-1964) at Dunhurst and Bedales and he particularly paid credit to his inspirational Biology teacher, Andrew Routh who, at the age of 91, was sitting in the audience. This was one of those magical Civics lectures that entertained, informed and allowed adults and students alike to learn and discuss such important issues with the leading academic in the field.

B-Sci: Issue 8

New Scientist

  • Camera traps have caught chimps placing stones in the hollows of trees and banging stones on those same trees, which along with strange dances in front of fires, waterfalls and in rain, point to them having some idea of religion. It seems to be passed down through specific tribes as a sort of tradition.
  • It seems Mercury used to have a layer of graphite up to 1 kilometre thick on its surface, floating above its mantle. This explains Mercury being darker than would be expected, and the spectrum of parts of its surface match graphite. Lava flows would have covered many parts which is why it is not all black.
  • When galaxies collide, lots of new stars are formed by the gas clouds hitting each other but the collision can also throw the innermost stars into the black holes at the centres, and if the black holes start orbiting each other then they can pull in stars much more easily. Although our galaxy will collide with Andromeda in 4 billion years, we are far enough out that we are unlikely to be swallowed up.
  • Pluto definitely has an atmosphere, and may even have clouds and other atmospheric features. All the pictures from the New Horizons probe won’t get back to Earth until nearly the end of this year, but those that have show clouds and a “haze” around the whole planet. Its atmosphere appears to be mostly Nitrogen, with some methane, ethane, acetylene and ethylene.


Bedalians attend Science Live event

By Izzy Edgeworth, Block 5

GCSE science liveGroups from Block 4, 5 and accompanying teachers visited Oxford to attend the GCSE Science Live event recently. We were fortunate enough to hear five of Britain’s top scientists deliver lecturers on their specialisms including Professor Robert Winston, Professor Andrea Sella, Professor Steve Jones, Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Professor Mark Miodownik.

We also benefited from receiving some top tips on examination success from a chief science examiner.

Prof. Winston and Prof. Jones focused on human life and evolution – the former talked about his research into IVF treatment and how it has changed over the past thirty years and the latter gave an interesting talk on human evolution and how environment changes the human mind and biology.

Prof. Sella gave a humorous talk on chemical processes using on-stage demonstrations and Dr Aderin-Pocock talked about astrophysics and how telescopes will develop over the next few years. Prof. Miodownik presented his ideas about the future in 2030, and what recourses and materials we will be using and how they will be used.

Overall, the trip was a fun and interesting experience that helped expand our knowledge on GCSE Science, the lecturers each showing a passion about their subject.