Bedales’ Biology department honours Robin Hill

dr-david-hillOne of the highlights of Parents’ Day was the presence in the Biology department of Dr David Hill, an Old Bedalian who is the son of another Old Bedalian, Robin Hill (1912-1917).

This year the Biology department display celebrated the life and work of Robin Hill, a biologist renowned for his work on chloroplasts and what is called the ‘Hill reaction’. Before moving on to Biochemistry, while still at Bedales, Robin Hill also developed an interest in plant dyes such as Woad and Madder. On display were some of his experiments with different dyes and fabrics – experiments that do not look dissimilar to a current Bedales Assessed Course project on plant dyes by Helena Alexander (Block 5).

This interest was inherited by David Hill, who is a real authority on the subject and was very happy to discuss it at length with visitors to the exhibition.

Robin Hill also invented the fisheye camera lens and was a very talented watercolour artist. The display, organised by Mary Shotter, focused on all aspects of Robin Hill’s life with many paintings and books that originated from his time at Bedales.

The department is very grateful to David and his wife Ruth, who both gave up the day to come and spend time in his old school and share anecdotes about his remarkable father.

Diversity and inclusivity in science education

diversity-inclusivity-science-educationBy Emily Seeber, Head of Sciences

The issues surrounding gender diversity in the sciences are well known. Only 1.9% of girls continue with Physics to A-level compared to 6.5% of boys, and girls have outnumbered boys 2:1 in Biology for the last decade. On the other hand, nationally, Chemistry attracts equal numbers of male and female students at A-level. However, this does not mean there is no gender imbalance in Chemistry teaching: girls tend to say they are studying Chemistry because it will help them get into a top university, or because they want to study medicine, and boys tend to respond that they just enjoy the subject. Both perspectives need challenging: why aren’t girls studying what they love, and why aren’t boys focused on their futures?

I am a firm believer in gender-neutral laboratory practice and am beginning to work on how that might look in sciences through a long-term research project. Even in a single sex school, a class of students will identify their gender in a whole spectrum of ways, and so science lessons shouldn’t be tailored to the learning preferences of one binary gender. This Wednesday I was invited to speak about issues of inclusivity in sciences education at the Inspiring Teachers conference at the Institute of Education in London, with other panellists from the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics and the Department for Education. We had a lively discussion about some of the key underlying issues that need unpicking in schools surrounding gender, race, and class.

Fortunately, Bedales does many of these things already: we call out sexist and racist language, we discuss diversity and inclusivity openly (I spoke to the Block 3 in Wellbeing last week about the different faces of the Feminist movement in Britain today) and the students are fully engaged in the dialogue, and we have moved away from setting in sciences (strongly correlated with divisiveness in all three areas). There are still big challenges ahead for equality, but I hope that by raising awareness of the issues with Heads of Science from all over the country, we have been able to plant some seeds for change.

Find more of Emily’s thoughts on gender issues in science education on her blog:

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.

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.

Bedales takes on ‘Biology Challenge’

Biology Challenge

Bedales Block 4 students have scooped a host of awards in the Biology Challenge, a national competition set by the Royal Society of Biology.

Of the 20 Bedales students that took part, 11 were awarded Gold, three were awarded Silver and three Bronze, with a further three pupils being ‘Highly Commended’. The Biology Challenge, which was taken by over 30,000 students across the county, is an online competition which tests students’ knowledge of Biology and Natural History. Harry Snell scored an outstanding 102/120, Raphael Henry 99/120 and Goose Milton 97/120, these scores were well above the 81 points required for the Gold award.

Congratulations to all involved.

By Mary Shotter, Biology Technician