British Science Week: 'Journeys'

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The theme for this year's British Science Week is Journeys. With 13 events for students, staff, parents and the Calne community over the course of the week, there has certainly been something for everyone. In Chapel, we have journeyed through our evolutionary past and explored some personal journeys in Science. The Sixth Form have journeyed into the brain on Brain Day and the Fourth Form have journeyed back to the dawn of computing with the AdaAdaAda show and so much more.

Chapels
Mrs Haydon launched British Science Week with an interactive talk in Chapel on the history of life on Earth. Using the centre aisle to represent our evolutionary timeline and every metre from the lectern to the doors representing 200 million years, helium balloons of different life forms were placed at the appropriate place on the timeline. A zebra, monkey, giraffe and elephant floating just 20cm in front of the lectern and Super Mario just 3.5cm from the end of our timeline really brought home how very recent life on Earth has been in a form recognisable to us.

Tuesday's Chapel treat was an amateur dramatics extravaganza, led by the LVI (Year 12) girls. This year a scientist will be placed on the new £50 note but who will it be? Dressed up as Rosalind Franklin, Alan Turing, Dorothy Hodgkin, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Joseph Priestley, the girls contested their claim to the £50 throne – with the debate culminating in a rap battle. The girls have been voting this week for who they think is the worthy winner – the result will be announced after the Fixed Exeat weekend.

Wednesday was a calmer Chapel – with reflections by Georgia and Elisabeth (Year 12), Harriet (Year 13) and Mrs Haydon on their scientific journeys so far. Elisabeth and Georgia talked about their work with the New York Junior Academy and the projects they have been working on with other students from all over the world. Harriet has offers for Medical School next year and Medicine has been her dream for a long time. She spoke about her work experience in hospitals, watching both simple and complex operations, what she had learnt from her MOOCs and her EPQ and the process of applying this year. Mrs Haydon (Head of Science and Senior Teacher) spoke about her expedition (a long time ago!) to the rainforest in Peru researching seed dispersal by Howler monkeys, working in industry, moving to industry and the diversity of STEM careers that the girls could find themselves in the future.

Lecture by Libby Jackson - Destination Space
On Tuesday 12th March, we were delighted to welcome Libby Jackson as our Keynote speaker for British Science Week 2019. She was also our final guest for this academic year’s Lecture Programme, and what a wonderful way to bring it to a close. Libby came to our attention during the lead-up to Tim Peake's trip to the International Space Station - she was in charge of the education programme for his flight but it was not until I picked up a copy of her book A Galaxy of Her Own did I realise the extraordinary career that she has had.

The theme for British Science Week this year was ‘Journey's’ so Libby took her journey and career as the focus of her lecture. She described how as a pupil she had loved Physics and Maths and had always been inspired by Space. Sitting with her friends discussing work experience she had joked that she was going to send an email to NASA to ask for a shadowing placement, and then did exactly that. Much to her surprise NASA wrote back and weeks later she was sitting in Mission Control in Houston, and the experience only left her wanting more.

After a degree in Physics and a Masters in Space Engineering, she worked her way up, often as the only female, to working in Mission Control for the European Space Agency in Munich. She was an instructor, a flight controller and finally a Columbus flight director on missions to the International Space Station. She shared many photographs of her career but the most poignant was the one where she was sitting in the same seat in Mission Control, now as flight director, as she had sat in on her work placement. Now the programme manager for Human Space Flight and Microgravity, she had a wealth of experience to share with the girls and delivered a very positive message about trying your hardest and giving things a go.

The girls really enjoyed the lecture and there were some fascinating questions at the end about space debris and the collaborative, international nature of space research. I had originally picked up the book because I was interested in the stories she was telling about women in Space but it was evident after the lecture that Libby's story, her determination to grab every opportunity and make her dreams come true, was just as interesting.  Mrs Alexandra Haydon

Brain Day
For British Science Week the Sixth Form Biologists and Psychologists took part in ‘Brain Day’ led by Dr Guy Sutton.

Here, one of the students describes the day:

'The session comprised three lectures, aimed at giving us a taste of what university lectures would be like, as well as expanding our knowledge beyond the A Level curriculum.

Our first lecture focused mainly on the chemicals within the brain, for example neurotransmitters. We learnt that THC, a chemical present in cannabis, is closely linked to the development of mental illnesses like Schizophrenia, however, at the same time, cannabis also contains CBD  – a chemical used in drug trials to treat Schizophrenia. Interestingly, Dr Sutton informed us that it was not only recreational drugs that have profound effects on the chemical makeup of the brain; the example given was that the high concentration of B12 in marmite leads to an increase in a neurotransmitter (GABA) which is responsible for desensitising specific brain circuits, including visual functions. In our second lecture we were introduced to the effect genes have on the brain. We learnt that specific brain circuits could be altered if key genes were switched off, a process which is linked to the cause of depression. We were also informed of a fascinating study involving Optogenetics. This is when a fibre optic cable is shone on specific nerve systems in the brain, switching circuits on with blue light and turning them off with orange light, in this way researchers were able to control behaviours in rats, including social interaction.

Our final lecture focused on the importance of consciousness. Dr Sutton explained that the complexity of the topic was partly caused by the fact that there was no concrete definition for what consciousness is; furthermore, it is hard to determine whether certain behaviours are due to conscious behaviour and whether conscious behaviour can be compared across species. Finally, Dr Sutton spoke about the recent innovation of the ability to grow miniature human brains in petri dishes in relation to consciousness. This raises the ethical dilemma of whether these brains possess consciousness and, if they do, should they be afforded the same rights as human or animal experiments? So much to consider! Overall, the session given by Dr Sutton was exciting, informative and engaging. It gave us a much deeper understanding of neuroscience and the relevance of research in this area to human society'.