“It’s science, Jim, but not as we know it”: Students at Sydenham High might well have echoed this exclamation from Dr ‘Bones’ McCoy in Star Trek as they attended the school’s #FutureProof Science Expo, with first-hand insights into some amazing scientific developments and discoveries.
At the start of Science Week, students from Years 9 and 10 were given the exciting opportunity to work alongside some of the UK’s top STEM innovators in a series of classroom workshops in which they discovered how some of the biggest challenges of the modern world are being answered - from the search for sustainable energy to a game-changing breakthrough in tackling drug-resistant disease that could have come straight from a sci-fi movie script.
Jonathan O’Halloran, microbiologist and inventor of a revolutionary hand-held device (resembling the famous Star Trek Tricorder) that can identify a disease profile in just 15 minutes, introduced the students to the complexities of DNA and the challenges of drug-resistant infections. The 2015 Chief Technical Officer of the Year, whose idea gained his company, QuantuMDx, funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, then showed the students how to extract their own DNA using everyday materials.
A post-doctoral team from the Welton Group at Imperial College explained the amazing properties of ionic liquids. These salts in liquid form are currently attracting worldwide attention as the industrial solvents of the future because of their ability to both dissolve materials that can’t be dissolved by water, such as wood, and conduct electricity.
Dr Chris Sinclair, from the Institute of Neurology at UCL, demonstrated how the latest MRI scanners can take us deep inside the human brain to help us to better understand the operation of this fascinating organ and identify neurological problems.
James Veness from SchoolEnergyEfficiency.co.uk, International Antarctic Expedition and Sasie Training, talked climate change, energy waste and how to find a more efficient system for powering the planet. He also delivered some hard-hitting global energy revelations including the fact that the world produces a mighty 107m tons of CO2 every day.
The workshops were followed by an open evening of exhibitions of curricular and extra-curricular work as well as practical demonstrations by both students from across the senior school and outside experts, attended by pupils and parents from Year 5 upwards. Subjects ranged from an investigation of hydrogels by the Science Club to examples of future sustainable foods. Also present were Stand Up to Cancer, providing taste tests and showcasing a microscope App. A photo exhibition from the recent joint Geography and Physics trip to Iceland was displayed in the Orangery.
The culmination of the evening was a lecture by Jonathan O’Halloran who explained how he had come up with the idea for his diagnostic device, having seen at first hand the devastating impact of drug-resistant strains of TB and malaria in South Africa. His device, which costs about the same as a smart phone, should be going into mass production soon and, with the addition of cloud technology, it will help to also identify future health pandemics and enable early action to combat them.
Science Week continued with a trip to CERN for Year 12 physicists, a food demo day and a science fair, organised by Year 8, which was attended by Junior School students.