Women head up Science Societies

(Taken from a Chapel Assembly given by Mrs Alexandra Ballard, Head of Science, on Friday 19th September). It is highly likely that you do not recognise these women (shown on screen to the girls). Their names are Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, Professor Lesley Yellowlees and Dr Frances Saunders. That probably does not help you much!

Professor Roberts is the President of the Society of Biology, Professor Yellowlees the President of the Royal Society of Chemistry and Dr Frances Saunders President of the Institute of Physics. These three societies are the leading organisations for science in the, thankfully still, United Kingdom. And 2014 is the first time in history that three women have held these positions at the same time.

Of course, this is a moment to celebrate progress. Science has in the past been seen as a man’s world, but why? At school girls outperform boys in all three sciences, and as these women show if you have the ambition, if you believe in yourself and push for progress the rewards are many. Science has become extremely important in all sectors of the UK economy with currently 20% of people employed in science-based roles. That number is only set to rise. There is a national shortage of skilled STEM – Science Technology, Engineering and Maths – workers and we need talented girls to fill the gap.

The Government is working hard to encourage more women to go into the STEM disciplines which I hope will inspire more girls like you to follow in the three Presidents’ footsteps, so while this is the first, it should not be the last time women head up all three Societies.

So 2014 is a good year for women in Science – and a good year for girls studying Science at St Mary’s too. Lower down the school we have trips organised to the Tank Museum in Bovington, the Science Museum in Bristol, the Big Bang Science Festival and Cheltenham Science Festival in the summer. I am also intending to take some of the Sixth Form to visit the Large Hadron Collider in Cern, Geneva next year. All these events should be both fascinating and lots of fun. We are also planning a number of speakers and workshops here throughout the year.

There are some particular additional opportunities if you are in the UV, LVI or UVI Form.  Firstly, if you are interested in studying Science in the Sixth Form, or if you are in the LVI Form and thinking of applying for a science-based course at university, we can help you organise a summer school place at some of the best universities. These placements are from three days to a week long; you get to take part in a Science, Technology or Engineering project and a chance to experience a little of university life.  Secondly, if you are in the LVI Form and interested in Engineering, we have organised for a team of St Mary’s girls to take part in a really exciting scheme working with an engineering company to help solve a real engineering problem.

Finally I want to talk to you (the girls) about an island called Montserrat. Montserrat is a tiny Caribbean island, near Antigua. It is less than ten miles long and less than seven miles wide, with hectares of forest and 25 miles of beautiful coast. Montserrat, like many isolated islands, is home to some exceptionally rare plant and animal species and is known for its coral reefs and caves along the shore.

The island is part of the British Overseas Territory, and the capital, Plymouth, was built over two hundred years ago. However, on 18th July 1995, the previously dormant Soufrière Hills volcano, in the southern part of the island, became active. Eruptions destroyed Montserrat’s Georgian era capital city of Plymouth and two-thirds of the island’s population was forced to flee.

The volcanic activity continues and the tiny island has been divided into two – a go zone and a no go zone. So what does this tiny island in the Caribbean have to do with the St Mary’s Science Department? Well a number of organisations are operating in Montserrat to monitor the effect of the volcanic activity on the flora and fauna of the island. One of them is called Coral Cay Conservation. Coral Cay Conservation works in partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Trade, Land, Housing and the Environment and as such is taking a holistic approach to the monitoring of Montserrat’s marine and terrestrial environments.

This summer, if you are in the UV, LVI or UVI Form you can fly to the Caribbean to spend 11 days on this beautiful island. Firstly, you would be doing your PADI open water dive qualification and joining the marine volunteer scheme, surveying the sea life on the reef. You would also get the opportunity to take part in some land- based projects, surveying birds and reptiles on the beach and in the forest during the day. On one of the days you will be trekking through the forest, learning how to set up camp and taking part in a night frog survey. One particular species you will be looking for will be the Giant Ditch Frog, helped by an enthusiastic volunteer. This frog is called locally the Mountain chicken. Named for its taste, it has been a delicacy on Montserrat for years, but its numbers are in sharp decline due to a deadly fungus. More information about this trip will follow later this term.

Our hymn this morning, All Creatures of our God and King, was based on a canticle by St Francis of Assisi. St Francis is the Patron Saint of Ecology and, given the trip to Montserrat, I thought it would be appropriate to read his prayer.

The grace of our lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit – be with us all for ever more Amen.


Mrs Alexandra Ballard
Head of Science

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