Does time really fly when you’re having fun?

Taking a cue from Henri Bergson’s theory of time, Hafsa in Year 10 examines the science behind our sense that time speeds up when we are enjoying ourselves

Time is the most used noun in the English language and yet humans are still struggling to define it, with its complicated breadth and many interdimensional theories. We have all lived through the physical fractions of time like the incessant ticking of the second hand or the gradual change in season, however, do we experience it in this form? This is a question that requires the tools of both philosophy and science in order to reach a conclusion.

In scientific terms, time can be defined as ‘The progression of events from the past to the present into the future’. In other words, it can be seen as made up of the seconds, minutes, and hours that we observe in our day-to-day life. Think of time as a one directional arrow, it cannot be travelled across or reversed but only and forever moves forward.

One philosophical theory would challenge such a definition of time. In the earliest part of the 20th century, the renowned philosopher Henri Bergson published his doctoral thesis, ‘Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness’, in which he explored his theory that humans experience time differently from this outwardly measurable sense. He suggested that as humans we divide time into separate spatial constructs such as seconds and minutes but do not really experience it in this form. If Bergson’s theory is right, our sense of time is really much more fluid than the scientific definition above suggests.

Image from

If we work from the inside out, we can explore the different areas of our lives which influence our perception of time. The first area is the biological make-up of our bodies. We all have circadian rhythms which are physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow a twenty-four-hour cycle. This rhythm is present in most living things and is most commonly responsible for determining when we sleep and when we are awake.

These internal body clocks vary from person to person, some running slightly longer than twenty-four hours and some slightly less. Consequently, everyone’s internal sense of time differs, from when people fall asleep or wake up to how people feel at different points during the day.

But knowing that humans have slight differences in their circadian rhythms doesn’t fully explain how our sense of time differs from the scientific definition. After all, these circadian rhythms still follow a twenty-four-hour cycle just like a clock. If we look at the wider picture, what is going on around us greatly affects our sense of time. In other words, our circadian rhythms are subject to external stimuli.

Imagine you are doing something you love, completely engrossed in the activity, whether it be an art, a science, or just a leisurely pastime. You look at the clock after what feels like two minutes and realise that twenty have actually passed. The activity acts as the external stimulus and greatly affects your perception of time.

When engrossed in an activity you enjoy, your mind is fully focussed on it, meaning there is no time for it to wander and look at the clock. Research suggests that the pleasurable event boosts dopamine release which causes your circadian rhythm to run faster. Let’s take an interval of five minutes as a basis for this. In this interval, due to your internal body clock running faster you feel as though only two minutes have gone by; time feels like it has been contracted.

By contrast, when you are bored, less dopamine is released, slowing your circadian rhythm, meaning your subjective sense of time runs slower. If we use the same example, in an interval of five minutes, you feel as though ten minutes have gone by and time feels elongated. This biological process has the power to shape and fluidify our perception of time.

So, the next time someone says ‘Wow, time really does fly by when you’re having fun,’ remember that there is much more science and philosophy behind the phrase than they might realise!


Keeping the flame alive: stoking scientific curiosity from Primary to GCSE

Chemistry teacher Marcus Patterson unpacks why initiatives at Wimbledon High School to carry through students’ sense of wonder about the world, from Primary science right through to Key Stage 4, are so important

Curiosity may have killed the proverbial cat, but for us humans, it has been, and I’m sure will continue to be, our raison d’être. From the gastronomic delights we enjoy in restaurants to the latest technological gadgets we now take for granted, curiosity and investigation have been behind them all.

In Key Stage 4, students deepen and develop their scientific knowledge and skills in preparation for their GCSE exams. Some further their education by studying science subjects at A Level. However, for others, the science they study at KS4 will be the only science education they get. So it is important that they are not only exposed to high quality teaching but that they remain enthusiastic and curious about the world around them. Because we want – no, need – our students to leave Wimbledon High School equipped to face future challenges and to come up with creative solutions to current and future problems with knowledge, reason, and zeal.

Fading fervour?

My experience, as well as the consensus more widely, suggests that students’ fervour for science start to dwindle at Key Stage 4. All children come to primary school with their own ideas and questions about science; how nature works, what energy is, what things are made of, as well as a litany of whys about everything else. During Key Stage 2 at WHS, students investigate the phenomena of living organisms, materials, Earth, space and forces. Their curiosity and eagerness is evident in their exercise books, which contain some outstanding work.

However, at Key Stage 4, that same sense of enthusiasm and wonder for science is much more difficult to see in students’ work. To be fair, students spend more time taking notes and sitting assessments than they probably did in primary school. However, the point remains: many students’ eagerness for science starts to wane, and learning science becomes a chore, based on learning content and skills simply to receive some hoped-for grade in the GCSEs.

To turn the tide in this seeming trend, Key Stage 3 has a vital role to play, as a bridge between the zestful, open, and wondrous world of primary school science and the more sophisticated, yet more sedate, world of Key Stage 4 Science. At Wimbledon High School, teachers have come up with some interesting and effective ways to help primary school students transition to science education at Key Stage 3, enabling KS3 Science to become a more effective bridge between Key Stages 2 and 4.

Wimbledon High – Year 8 Science Fair

Extending enthusiasm

One opportunity is the taster lesson. In May, Alex Farrer brought her Year 6 Science students to work alongside Year 7 Science students in the Key Stage 3 Science Lab located in the STEAM tower of the Senior School. In the past year, Year 6 students have studied electricity and have collaborated with Year 7 students to investigate electricity and cells, and to build coin-cell batteries.

In addition, Year 5 students visited the Senior School Key Stage 3 Science Lab for a taster lesson during which they explored the world of chemical and physical changes. Both Years 5 and 6 taster sessions allowed students from the Junior School not only to see and experience how science education is done at KS3 in the Senior School, but also to reinforce and buoy the learning experiences they have had so far in science, giving students a sense of continuity. What they have learned so far continues to be explored, albeit a bit more deeply, at KS3. Such continuity allows students to maintain and further develop their curiosity and enthusiasm for science.

In Key Stage 3, students’ scientific knowledge and skills grow, and their ability to communicate scientifically is starting to develop. To give students an opportunity to apply what they have learned in interesting and creative ways, Year 8 Science students put on a Science Fair. They spent the last five weeks asking questions, coming up with hypotheses, and investigating the nature of light and sound. They presented their findings in a poster session and discussed their projects with judges, parents, teachers, and each other. Students were inquisitive and worked enthusiastically on their projects, and the results were consistently creative and superb.

Cultivating curiosity

As Key Stage 3 Science teachers, we can keep students wondering eagerly about the nature of the world around them as we encourage them to reflect upon and evaluate the answers to the questions they had before: are they satisfied, and what more do they want to know? Encouraging this type of self-reflection among students, whether through class discussions or a science journal, can do much to help them maintain that zealous and inquisitive momentum for science into and throughout their Key Stage 4 Science experience.

Just as Junior School students are given an opportunity to experience science at the Senior School, Key Stage 3 students could be given an opportunity to have taster lessons in Key Stage 4 science areas. They will come to see that the topics and themes they explored in KS3 continue to be explored at KS4, but their knowledge, understanding, and communication of science will become more sophisticated. Some of their previous questions will be answered, and then they will then have new questions. Our aim is to get them to seek the answers to those questions with the same zest and wonder as they had when they were in primary school. Exciting times are ahead!

Year 7 and Year 6 working together

Is ‘hard maths’ really putting girls off Physics?

WHS Physics Lesson

Physics teacher Helen Sinclair investigates the claim that ‘hard maths’ puts off girls from studying Physics, and finds that the truth is much more complex than this, and is not limited to gender. She explains how she makes lessons and clubs inclusive.

In April, the Government’s Social Mobility Advisor, Katherine Birbalsingh, told MPs that girls are less likely to choose Physics A-Level because it contains too much “hard maths”. She added, “Research generally, they say that’s just a natural thing… I mean I don’t know. I can’t say – I mean, I’m not an expert at that sort of thing. That’s what they say.”

This provoked unsurprising outrage from those who have spent their working lives trying to understand and solve this problem. Dame Athene Donald, Professor Emerita of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge, summed up some of the key points when she spoke to the same committee a few days later.

“[It] starts really young, the message society gives is that they (Physicists) are white males, and I think there is evidence to show that if you are black or if you are a woman, you don’t see yourself fitting in… The internal messages that girls may believe – if teachers aren’t actively trying to counter that, they may not realise that the girls are being driven by things that aren’t their natural choices.”

Whilst Ms Birbalsingh may have subsequently backtracked somewhat from her comments, the question still lingers – why is there such a gender gap in Physics?

A diversity gap

The problem of diversity in Physics is not new. The percentage of female A-Level Physics students has stubbornly remained around 20% for nearly 30 years. In 2011 the Institute of Physics reported that almost half of all mixed schools had no girls studying Physics A-Level and that girls were almost two and a half times more likely to study Physics if they came from a girls’ school rather than a co-ed school. Five years later, the picture had barely changed. Their detailed research over the last decade shows that the causes extend far beyond the Physics classroom: schools with low numbers of girls in Physics often showed gender imbalances in other subjects too, such as English. Furthermore, their research revealed that it wasn’t simply a problem of gender. All kinds of minorities are less likely to study Physics.

Girls often enter the Physics classroom with a narrower range of early, concrete preparations for Physics compared to boys, stemming from the very different toys and pursuits that they are still often exposed to in their early years. This can make it hard for them to easily identify links between core ideas studied in the classroom and their applications to their lives and career ambitions. Research shows that by exploring these applications within lessons, all students (and particularly girls) are better able to see the relevance of Physics as a subject.

Making Physics teaching more inclusive

Girls are also more likely to see value in subjects that link to social and human concerns. Because Physics tends to simplify situations in order to understand key principles, these links can often be lost, making concepts seem irrelevant to students’ lives. By making a conscious effort to link concepts to real-world problems and societal challenges, we can convey the subject’s importance more effectively to girls. For example, this year we have explored Energy Use and Climate Change with Year 9; the Chernobyl disaster, the USSR and the war in Ukraine with Year 10; and the how seatbelts are designed for men and Tonga’s damaged data cable with Year 11.

Research has shown that girls’ self-concept is lower than boys. They also are more interested in achieving mastery of a subject. This is particularly noticeable in our students, who often try to judge their success by comparing their achievements with others’, and who can look at anything other than perfection as a failure. This culture of perfection (which extends well beyond the Physics classroom) can make it harder for students initially to engage with more challenging problems. One of the key ways of supporting students through this is to create a more relaxed atmosphere, allowing them to discuss different approaches, and identify and learn from their mistakes. Embedded use of the Isaac Physics website in lessons has proved a powerful tool to help our students feel successful and identify areas for improvement quickly.

Wimbledon High School Physics

Our Physics lunch club was formed in partnership with some Year 10s who wanted to tackle challenging problems. At first it was run in an ordinary classroom, but it soon became clear that in this formal environment, students were on edge. The following week we relocated to the new private dining room on site. Students ate their lunch and chatted at the same time as completing questions. The informal atmosphere encouraged them to discuss problems, rather than try to solve them individually. It was fascinating to see how the setting and approach of the session had such a significant impact on students’ enjoyment and engagement.

Whilst there are many things an individual teacher can do, it is important to remember that the impacts of these interventions are likely to be limited. Above all, the research consistently shows that girls’ views on Physics are shaped by their interactions in wider society and the bias that is still pervasive there. Surely it is our responsibility as educators to openly address this, not just for the benefit of our students, but also for the benefit of our society.

Should prisoners on Death Row be accepted as Organ Donors?

Isobel, a Year 10 pupil at WHS, assesses the ethics and logistics of accepting death row prisoners as organ donors.

Disclaimer: This piece is based on the US death row and does not highlight my own views on capital punishment.

From a Utilitarian standpoint, there may appear to be a simple answer to this question: organ donation should be permitted because there is a global shortage of transplantable organs and those in dire health condition are unable to receive the medical care they need. However, as more research is done numerable practical and ethical barriers arise. One country that already utilises organs from death row inmates is China. Reports state that more than 5,000 prisoners are executed in China annually, and organs are harvested for transplantation from suitable prisoners. These prisoners are executed via a temporal gun shot wound and are declared dead secondary to execution. They are not declared brain dead which causes many ethical headaches because the physicians removing the organs are then put in the position of executioner. This brief case study begins to highlight some of the major opposing arguments to organ donation from death row prisoners.

Picture from showing surgery

The numerous practical barriers surrounding organ procurement from death row prisoners begin to pile up after closer inspection. The first issue is the low yield of transplantable donor organs from these prisoners due to the potential high likelihood of alcohol or drug abuse. Whilst this is a potential stereotype, these factors can drastically impact the quality of the organs being donated.

For example, alcoholism is the leading cause of liver disease in the US because heavy drinking can cause irreversible cirrhosis. Approximately 10-20% of heavy drinkers develop this disease and it is the ninth leading cause of death in the US, killing around 35,000 people a year. Prisoners in long term facilities will not live on nutrition rich diets, will most likely be malnourished because of the (often) poor-quality food they have consumed and will not get the adequate exercise to build up strong organs such as hearts and lungs. These reasons could also impact the quality of their organs for transplantation.

The second practical barrier preventing condemmed prisoners from being organ donors is the logistics on the day of execution. The surgeon performing the operation cannot kill the patient by removing their organs as it breaches the Hippocratic oath of ‘do no harm’. The patient must already be dead or pronounced brain dead before they are put under general anaesthesia because when the transplant team cross clamps the aorta, resulting in a cardiectomy and takes the patient of the ventilator, they are then declared dead. Many physicians’ groups, including the American Medical Association, have prohibited physician participation in state executions on ethical grounds.

Looking through a utilitarian lense the death of an organ donor means dozens of lives saved and the donation is there simply to help those suffering from end stage organ disease, not for any other ulterior motives. The two documents that set out the rules around organ donation in the US are the National Transplant Act of 1984 and the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act. Neither of these documents explicitly prohibits organ donation by death row inmates which means there is no law preventing it from happening. The National Transplant Act states that organ donation cannot be made for ‘valuable considerations’, including exchange of money, material benefit, or a shortened sentence.  This would not be an issue for death row inmates as they have already been condemmed until the end of their life and they have little access to the wider society.

Christian Longo went public with his idea to donate organs as a condemmed prisoner and joined the organisation G.A.V.E (Gifts of Anatomical Value from Everyone). He came up with the idea himself so there is no fear of coercion and he approached the New York times with his story on a voluntary basis. There have been 14 other publicised instances of death row inmates and their lawyers attempting to seek their respective opportunities to donate their organs. They were denied on the grounds of current knowledge on the matter. As popularity surrounding capital punishment begins to dim the public’s sympathy for those stationed on death row is increasing. The conversation surrounding a prisoner’s ability to choose to have one good action in the world before their execution is becoming ever louder.

When a person in incarcerated many of their free rights no longer apply. This can make the ethical arguments considered in organ donation heightened or just too confusing to comprehend.  Two seemingly opposite arguments: fear of coercion, (insinuates the death row inmates are not being adequately protected) and the intention to preserve the morality of capital punishment (death row inmates rights are given too much protection) begin to represent this.

There is a fine line between coercion and free choice when it is made in a heavily pressurised situation like a prison. The emotional stress on the donor can be intense because of the need to make right. Also, the patient who is accepting the donor should be notified that the organs they are receiving came a person on death row. Those who oppose capital punishment are then forced to choose between their life or their personal morals. Many say that the idea of capital punishment is to achieve retribution and deterrence in society. The action of donation is not consistent with either of these aims. Making a hero of the person at the end of their life could have detrimental impact on the family and friends of the victim to the prisoner’s crime. For many, the death of the perpetrator of their pain can bring closure and end to the cycles of grief. To see them be glorified in their last days could have the opposite effect.

It is important to consider the impact that organ donation from death row prisoners will have on the overall practice. The number of potential organs recovered from condemned prisoners would be small. The conceivable stigma that would be attached to organ donation from its coupling with execution could lead to decreases in donation rates. This may especially be true within certain minority groups.

Any notion that groups of people were receiving increased numbers of death sentences to provide organs for the rest of society would clearly make it difficult to attempt to obtain consent for altruistic donation from these groups.

Overall, the bad outweighs the good so although it may seem like an easy solution to a difficult problem, donation from death row inmates would cause more problems than it could hope to solve.

Immunology: a brief history of vaccines

Sienna (Year 11) looks at the history of immunisation, from variolation to vaccination, exploring some of the topics around this important science.

History of Immunisation:


While vaccination is considered quite a modern medical procedure, it has its roots in more ancient history. In China there are records of a procedure to combat smallpox as early as the year 1000. This was called variolation and was a procedure where pus was taken from a patient with a mild case of smallpox which was then given to another person. This means the person gets a less dangerous version of smallpox than they may have otherwise, promoting an immuno-response to act as a way of preventing the disease. This method became established around the world and was later seen in the work of Edward Jenner, who is considered the ‘father of vaccinations’, after he used this technique in Africa, England and Turkey in the 1700s.

Later in the 1700s, the USA learned of it from slaves who came inoculated from Africa. Even though a remarkable feat for the time, it wasn’t without risk, as the way the immunity was reached was by direct exposure to the virus, so infected patients could still die from the virus – as is what happened with King George III’s son and countless number of slaves. However, the risk of dying from variolation was far smaller than the risk of catching and dying from smallpox, so variolation was popular despite the risks.


Origin of the first widely accepted vaccination: 

Vaccination, as we know it in modern terms, was first established in 1796 by Edward Jenner. He was a scientist and fellow of the Royal Society in London. Seeing how much of a problem smallpox was at that time (and for most of history prior to then), Jenner was interested at innovating the process of variolation to tackle smallpox.

He was inspired by something he heard when he was a child from a dairymaid saying I shall never have smallpox for I have had cowpox. I shall never have an ugly pockmarked face.” This inspired him later in life to carry out an experiment where he inoculated an eight-year-old with cowpox disease. He recorded the boy felt slightly ill for around 10 days after the procedure, but afterwards was completely fine. After being injected with active smallpox material a few months later, the boy did not show any symptoms of the disease; Jenner concluded his experiment had been a success.

After writing up his findings, Jenner decided to name the new procedure vaccination as the Latin for cowpox is ‘vaccinia’. His paper was met with a mixed reaction from the medical community. Despite this, vaccination began gaining popularity due to the activity of other doctors such as Henry Cline, a surgeon whom Jenner had talked closely with.

Due to the success of the procedure, especially compared to variolation, by the turn of the century (just a few short years after Jenner had run his experiment) vaccination could be found in almost all of Europe and was particularly concentrated in England. The success of Jenner’s work is outstanding. By 1840 vaccination had replaced variolation as the main weapon to fight against smallpox so much so that variolation was prohibited by law in British Parliament. The disease that had ripped so mercilessly through the world for centuries was finally declared eradicated in 1977 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – perhaps more than the deceased Jenner could have ever hoped his discovery would achieve.

Edward Jenner: 

Image via Pexels

Despite undeniably being a force for good in terms of the world, Jenner was also a remarkable person on a slightly smaller scale. Despite low supplies at times, Jenner would send his inoculation to anyone who asked for it – medical associates, friends and family, even strangers. Later in his life, he even set up his ‘Temple of Vaccinia’ in his garden where he vaccinated the poor free of charge. Despite the opportunity, Jenner made no attempt to profit off of his work, rather viewing his invention as a contribution to science and to humanity, and this was perhaps vital for the speed at which the vaccine and vaccination process spread.

Modern Vaccinations: 

Nowadays vaccinations have changed – not in principle but in the nitty-gritty science of them – as we have begun to know more about how our immune system works. Jenner’s inoculant was adapted and changed to suit different diseases, containing either very mild strains of a virus with similar spike proteins, a dead strain of the virus, or even the isolated spike protein, enabling the body to recognise the pathogen without being exposed to the danger of it.

Introducing the body to the same spike proteins found on the harmful pathogen is in essence how vaccination works. The body responds to these spike proteins are foreign and so send phagocytes (a type of white blood cell) to destroy them, and lymphocytes to create antibodies to activate an immune response. This is why a few days after vaccination there may be a feeling of discomfort or slight fever – this is because the body is fighting against those spike proteins.

While the spike proteins are being destroyed, the body creates memory cells. These are the most important part of the vaccination procedure and mean that if the body is exposed to the actual, more dangerous pathogen in the future, the memory cells will recognise the spike protein and the body will have a secondary immune response, so that antibodies are produced in much greater quantity, sooner and more rapidly. Secondary immune responses to diseases are far more effective and often the person will never show any symptoms they have that disease, with the pathogens being destroyed within a matter of days.

Viral Vector Vaccines:

These are an example of exciting advances in vaccination. The way these type of vaccines work, such as the COVID-19 vaccine developed in the UK by Oxford University, is that the DNA from the actual virus is injected into an adenovirus (a deactivated virus that acts as a carrier for the actual virus DNA to our bodies), causing the antigens for actual virus to develop on the adenovirus. These can then trigger a strong immune response from the body without the actual virus itself being introduced into the body. This is an effective way to ensure memory cells to that virus are created, and this attributes to the Oxford vaccines high efficacy reports.

mRNA Vaccines:

The exciting new vaccination adaption is the mRNA material in the vaccine, and this has been used in some of the COVID-19 vaccines. The mRNA essentially is a set of instructions for the body to make the spike protein of the pathogen meaning the body makes the protein rather than it being cultivated in a laboratory and then put into a vaccination, but after that has exactly the same response. This allows the vaccination to be produced quicker and to be more effective. However, due to the newer and more complicated nature of the vaccine, it is more expensive to produce and needs to be stored at very low temperatures due to the mRNAs unstable nature. This can cause logistical issues with storage and distribution and is why the DNA based vaccine has been hailed as the best option for low income developing countries who do not have the facilities to store the mRNA vaccines. DNA vaccines can be stored at fridge temperature as DNA is far more stable than mRNA due to its double helix structure. This novel type of vaccine was developed by two Turkish immigrants living in Germany, who thought outside the box, like Jenner to improve human health in the race against time to find an effective vaccine. They have been enormously successful with the mRNA vaccine displaying 95% effectiveness against COVID-19 seven or more days after the second shot is administered.

Image via Pexels

Controversies of vaccinations:

During this pandemic, there has been wide-spread appreciation of how vital vaccines will be to control the spread of COVID-19. However, the voices of skeptics, often amplified by social media, seem to have found a more prominent platform to spread their opinions. They do not trust vaccination due to a variety of unfounded concerns. One of these is the argument that that the vaccinations are really ways for the government to implant chips into its citizens. Not only does this theory ignore the historic science of vaccination but logistically the needle would need to be far wider and the subsequent puncture wound would be far more noticeable.

The autism study:

Unfortunately, even though an article by Andrew Wakefield in 1998 was quickly shown to be based upon unfounded evidence, it continues to resurface among skeptics in their argument against vaccines, falsely claiming there is a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Wakefield not only used only 12 children to test his hypothesis, far too small a group to draw up any kind of reliable conclusion, but he was also struck of the UK medical register for this paper. Wakefield’s study was disproven and redacted, and his hypothesis has been disregarded in the medical community through subsequent research and publication. The amplification of this fraudulent study has been cited as a reason for a decline in the uptake of the MMR vaccination and the subsequent small outbreaks of measles.

Development of COVID-19 vaccines:

For some, when they look at the speed with which the Covid-19 vaccine has been developed – under a year compared to more standard research time which can be as much as a decade – they are skeptical.

However, this is not because of cutting corners in the process; rather it is due to the immense amount of funding and equipment being given to scientists, as well as the sheer number of people working on the vaccine, to prioritise its development. In Phase I, II and III human trials are used and are assessed extensively for how the vaccine works in a diverse range of age groups, races, body types and pre-existing health conditions, as well as to accurately measure the exact immune response of the body – the antibodies and cells that have been produced and the efficacy and safety of the drug. This is then tested again by the approval companies – The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency for the UK, the European Medicines Agency for the EU and the Centre for Disease Control for the USA.

The World Health Organisation listed ‘vaccine hesitancy’ as one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019. This will play a crucial role in how quickly life can return to normal following the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccinations are humans’ biggest weapon against the pandemic; they are, in the words of Sir David Attenborough, ‘a great triumph of medicine’, and although there has been recent news about mutations of the virus, it is important to remember that this is completely to be expected. The recent talk of the South Africa, UK and Brazil mutations have been due to small changes in the spike protein of the virus which have affected the transmissibility of the virus. There are tests currently being run, but early signs show that the vaccines are still effective against the mutation.

Even in the worst-case scenario, the vaccines can be adapted in a matter of weeks or months, and the government is preparing for a situation in which a COVID-19 vaccine has to be given annually to those at high risk, similar to the current flu vaccine. It comes as a relief that finally, in the wake of such a disruptive and terrible pandemic, there is light at the end of the tunnel and a reason to look forward to better days ahead, knowing that this lockdown will be very much so beneficial as every day more people are getting these game changing vaccinations.


Is geothermal energy the answer to our climate problems?

Lucy in Year 10 looks at issues surrounding climate change and the damage our current ways of living are having on the planet. Might geothermal energy offer the UK, and the world, a solution for us to clean up our act?

We are in the midst of a climate crisis; the UK government has recently made a commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 to help stop further damage to the environment. The burning of fossil fuels to generate power is a significant contributor to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, so the use of renewable energy sources is critically important to meeting this commitment to achieve net zero emissions. There are already many established sources of renewable energy, such as wind, solar and tidal power, but geothermal energy might be an unexpected solution to the UK’s problems.

Geothermal energy: a solution to a cleaner future?
Picture from

Geothermal energy uses the natural heat from within the Earth’s crust to heat water and create steam.  This steam then powers a turbine in a similar way to the production of energy using fossil fuels, with the key exception that the heat comes from the earth instead of from the burning of coal, oil or gas.  So, like other forms of renewable energy, geothermal energy produces far less CO2 than fossil fuels do.

The key advantage geothermal energy offers over many other forms of renewable energy is consistency.  Solar cells and wind turbines rely on climate and weather conditions to operate, which means that the amounts of energy produced varies and can be unreliable.  Geothermal energy doesn’t have that problem. No matter what happens, a geothermal plant will always produce the same amount of energy. The problems caused by inconsistent energy provision have already been seen; only weeks after setting a new wind power generation record, a breezeless day in January 2021 resulted in a shift back to fossil fuelled power and a tenfold surge in spot energy prices.[1]

Geothermal energy is currently in the news due to a recent announcement to build the first ever geothermal plant in the UK, in Porthtowan, Cornwall.  It will produce enough energy to power 10,000 homes[2] – enough to power almost all of Birmingham. So, why don’t we build them everywhere?[3]

While geothermal energy does have significant benefits, it also comes with its own set of problems.  The most prominent of these is the very specific characteristics of the Earth’s crust needed to be able to superheat the steam and power the turbines. As opposed to somewhere like Iceland, on the boundary of a tectonic plate, these locations are few and far between in the UK. Some will unfortunately be located in populous areas, where the negative aesthetics of a power station would outweigh its benefits. Another worrying fact about geothermal plants is that their construction, and the drilling of geothermal wells into the earth’s surface, have been the cause of several earthquakes over the past decade (5.5 magnitude earthquake in Pohang, South Korea in 2017).  While this is less of a risk for the UK, being geologically more stable, it still is a factor to be considered. I would hasten to add that this risk is less than that of CO2 from fossil fuels or the toxic clean-up of a nuclear power station!

While geothermal energy plants are undoubtedly an effective and positive use of the Earth’s natural resources to create a sustainable and consistent supply of energy, the problems that their construction and capabilities raise mean that it would be impossible for them to become the sole provider of the UK’s energy. However, it is undeniable that their existence and use could aid the UK greatly in our battle against greenhouse gases and the climate crisis. While geothermal energy cannot solve the climate problem alone, it should definitely be a part of the UK’s, and the world’s, solution to the threat that is the climate crisis.





[3] Check out to see the new Geothermal Plant take shape


Will we ever be able to live on the moon?

Isabelle in Year 11 looks at whether we will ever be able to live on the moon, and what this might involve.


Ever since man first stepped onto the moon, the possibility of one day living there has become increasingly prevalent. NASA’s several lunar missions have brought back information that shows the potential of a new home for the human race and, with Earth slowly becoming less inhabitable due to global warming, it is now more essential than ever to find a (potentially radical) solution. In our solar system the other planets have extreme temperatures and pressures that would make it impossible for us to survive and, since technology has not advanced enough to send life beyond the moon, it is unlikely the habitable planets outside of our solar system are within reach in the next 100 years.

Astronaut on the moon
Above: Astronaut via Pixabay

Data collected by NASA has shown that the moon’s surface (made up of regolith) has a consistency and cohesiveness of baking flour and although it is similar to sand on the Earth’s surface, it has very different properties. A build-up of electrostatic forces causes the regolith particles to stick to equipment and astronauts’ suits and clouds of dust could become trapped around the wheels of vehicles rendering them immobile. It would definitely be difficult to build infrastructure on this type of surface but a planned Artemis mission in 2024 will send scientists and engineers to the surface to examine the potential.

Water is an essential for humans and although the moon lacks liquid water, molecules can be found trapped in the rocks and minerals or in the form of ice at the poles. This water can be extracted to sustain human life for some time – certainly not the entire of Earth’s population but potentially enough for a moon base. Oxygen for breathing can also be found in the moon’s surface as it makes up 42% of the regolith. This can easily be extracted by robots which NASA have already built prototypes for, and used as fuel for rockets alongside hydrogen. So, the moon already has the raw materials for 2 necessary conditions for humans to live.
Food is a little more complicated. In previous space missions, astronauts have brought light, compact packets of non-perishable food but going back and forth from the moon bringing food every few months would cost a huge amount and a whole civilisation would require a lot more food compared to 3 or 4 astronauts. The moon’s soil contains toxic elements that would kill plants before they would have the chance to grow but experiments have found that if you add human manure, the soil becomes safer to use. This sustainable way of producing food would only need seeds to be brought in the spaceship.

A major difference between the moon and Earth is the strength of gravity. The moon’s gravity is around a 6th of the Earths. This has a negative impact on humans as the weightlessness causes bone density and muscles to deteriorate as they are not being used and heart rate and blood pressure to decrease dramatically. Fitness levels of astronauts have been shown to drop as aerobic capacity reduces by 20-25%. However, there have been no deaths related to lack of gravity over a long period of time and medicine can help our bodies to adapt to the new norm.
Cosmic radiation rarely affects us on Earth due to the ozone layer that protects us from most of the waves however the moon doesn’t have anything like this. Scientists have found that hydrogen can act as a shield and have considered wrapping a form of it around infrastructure. Another option would be to use regolith to create bricks to create housing as this would also protect humans. Much like the Earth, the moon’s poles receive sunlight almost 24/7 and so that would be an excellent option for providing power through solar cells.

Scientists have really thought about just about everything to sustain a base or civilisation of the moon. The problem with this all is the cost. There haven’t been very many missions to the moon due to the expense of building a rocket that contains all the necessary things and the advanced technology such as the rovers that are used to transport astronauts around the surface of the moon. It would currently be impractical as even a handful of people would still require several rockets and as well as robots and technology the idea of sending enough people to even create a base would be impossible for the near future. The dream is not dead yet though. Elon Musk recently became the richest man in the world and he has set his sights on building a small civilisation on the moon among other things through his SpaceX programme and with all the information gathered this could become a reality for the next generations.


How are organoids going to change biomedical research?


Kate in Year 13 explores how organoids are going to contribute to biomedical research. 

At the moment, biomedical research is almost exclusively carried out in animal models. Although this has led to a better understanding of many fundamental biological processes, it has left gaps in our understanding of human specific development. In addition to this, the variability of human individuals is in sharp contrast to inbred animal models, leading to a deficiency in our knowledge about population diversity.

These limitations have forced scientists to invent a new way of looking at and understanding how the human body works; their conclusions were organoids.

An Organoid (Wikipedia)

Organoids are a miniaturised and simplified version of an organ produced in vitro in 3D which shows realistic micro-anatomy. They originate from renewable tissue sources that self-organise in culture to acquire in vivo-like organ complexity. There are potentially as many types of organoids as there are different tissues and organs in the body. This provides many opportunities such as allowing scientists to study mechanisms of disease acting within human tissues, generating knowledge applicable to preclinical studies as well as being able to offer the possibility of studying human tissues at the same if not higher level of scientific scrutiny, reproducibility and depth of analysis that has been possible only with nonhuman model organisms.

Organoids are going to revolutionise drug discovery and accelerate the process of bringing much needed drugs to reality. Nowadays, the process averages around 20 years from conception to reality. This is a lengthy process mainly due to the fact that the pharmaceutical industry has relied on animal models and human cell lines that have little resemblance to normal or diseased tissue – possibly one of the reasons behind the high failure rate of clinical trials adding to the high cost of drug discovery – an average of $2 billion for each new drug that reaches the pharmacy.

Organoids can help this development by using human cells instead of animal cells due to the improved compatibility, making it quicker and more efficient. Organoids are also able to provide a better understanding of human development.

Organoid graph
Above: Uses of organoids from

The human brain, especially the neocortex (which is the part of the mammalian brain involved in higher-order brain functions such as sensory perception, cognition, spatial reasoning and language), has evolved to be disproportionally larger compared with that of other species. A better understanding of this species-dependant difference through brain organoids will help us gain more knowledge about the mechanisms that make humans unique, and may aid the translation of findings made in animal models into therapeutic strategies answering the question what makes humans human.

Organoids are the future of biomedical research providing the potential to study human development and model disease processes with the same scrutiny and depth of analysis customary for research with non-human model organisms. Resembling the complexity of the actual tissue or organ, patient derived human organoid studies will accelerate medical research and generate knowledge about human development which is going to dramatically change the way we are going to study biology in the future.

Dreams – what are they and why do they happen?

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Sofia, Year 9, discusses what dreams are and why they happen.

When you think of the word “dream”, many questions may pop into your head such as ‘what do they mean?’ and ‘what are they for?’ and perhaps ‘can they predict my future?’ I guess the best way to describe a dream is a story or sequence of images your mind creates while you are asleep. Except of course there is a lot more to it…

The history of dreams

It is thought that people in the third millennia in Mesopotamia were the first to record their dreams on wax or clay tablets and over 1000 years later Egyptians made themselves dream books, which also listed their potential meanings. Priests would be the ones to interpret these since they were written in hieroglyphics. Interpreters were looked up to, as they were blessed with this divine gift.

Interestingly, in the Greek and Roman era, dreams were interpreted in a religious context, thinking gods or even those from the dead were sending them direct messages. They believed dreams forewarned and they even built special shrines where those who sought a message would go to sleep.

In China, dreaming was also seen as a place where your spirit and soul left your body and went to a different world while asleep. If you were awoken, your soul may fail to return to your body. In the Middle Ages, dreams were considered to be the devil’s dirty work and fill the humans’ minds with malicious thoughts while at their most vulnerable state.

Above: Photo by Andrew Neel, Unsplash

The psychology behind dreams

Dreams can sometimes be exciting, terrifying, boring and just plain random, and although it may not feel like it, we have multiple dreams in one night that actually only last approximately 15 minutes. It’s hypothesized that everyone dreams, even though people who don’t remember their dreams may think they don’t dream[1]. Within 5 minutes of waking up, you usually forget 50% and by 10 minutes almost 90% is gone[2].

Dreams typically involve elements from life such as known people or familiar locations. And yes, it has been proven that your brain is incapable of “creating a new face”. They can also allow people to act out certain scenarios that wouldn’t happen in real life and make you feel incredibly emotional if it is vivid enough. In 1899, Sigmund Freud wrote a study “Interpretation of Dreams” which has been controversial among other experts. He states that we only dream to fulfil wishes, but many have disagreed. The Continual Activation Theory explains that we dream to keep our brains working and to consolidate memories, so that when data is needed from memory storage, we have it, but it’s just expressed in a different way while we dream. It is also suggested that we dream to rehearse and practise. Have you ever had a nightmare of being chased by a bear or even a criminal? These have been proven to be very common and challenge your instincts in case you ever do come across a dangerous situation in your life.

 What does science have to say?

The scientific study of dreams is called oneirology (derived from Greek word ‘oneiron’) Dreams mainly occur in the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep when brain activity is high and feels similar to being awake; it occurs within the first 90 minutes of falling asleep. During this stage, the pons in the brain shut off signals to the spinal cord causing you to be immobile while sleeping. When the pons doesn’t shut down the spinal cord’s signals, people will act out their dreams which of course could be dangerous, perhaps if you run into a wall or fall down a staircase.

Above: Brain illustration by

This is known as REM sleep behaviour disorder, which is rarer than sleepwalking. Even though we are immobile, the brain is very active, and you could still move and accidentally hit your sister in the face thinking you’re in a netball match. The blue represents inactive parts in the brain during REM in the image shown. Linking back to a previous point, an additional reason we may dream is to forget. This may sound confusing, but our brain creates thousands of connections by everything we think and do. A neurobiological theory known as Reverse Learning told us that during REM sleep cycles, the neocortex reviews the connections and ignores unnecessary ones, preventing your brain from being overrun with useless connections.

Even if we never know the real reason why dreams happen or whether they have any significance, it is possible that we will eventually one day find out due to developing technology. However, they may always remain somewhat a mystery to us, but hopefully, the next time you go to bed, you’ll maybe consider the complex aspects of science behind them.





What is obstetric fistula and why is it so common in developing countries?

Shirley, Year 10, looks at Obstetric Fistula, the most devastating and serious childbirth injury and explores why the injury is so common in developing countries, and the impact it has on the life of women.


‘Obstetric Fistula is the worst thing you’ve never heard of’

An obstetric fistula is often considered as ‘one of the most serious and tragic childbirth injuries’, yet very few people have heard of it.

An obstetric fistula is a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder and is caused by prolonged, obstructed labour without access to timely, high-quality medical treatments such as an emergency C-section. In the case of an obstructed labour, the fetus is unable to come out of the mother’s body, usually because the baby is too big, or is in the wrong position.

Fistula diagram Days of unrelieved labour creates compression and cuts off both blood supplies to the baby and the mother’s internal soft tissue, causing both to die. The dead tissue results in holes (fistulas) in the walls separating the woman’s reproductive and excretory systems.

Why is it so common in developing countries?

Obstetric fistula has been virtually eradicated in developed countries due to the availability of good medical care, such as the C-section and obstetric facilities.

However, this is not the case in developing countries.

Obstetric fistula occurs among women who live in low-resource countries, who give birth without access to medical help. There is often a lack of access to medical facilities, lack of adequately trained medical staff and not enough medical supplies and equipment.

It is estimated that there may be at least two million women and girls, living in poverty, who suffer from fistula. The problem is particularly prevalent in Africa, parts of Asia, parts of Latin America, the Arab States region and the Caribbean.

In many developing countries, girls tend to marry and begin childbearing at a very young age, often before their body is sufficiently developed to cope with this. The lack of formal education and the access to accurate information about family planning, pregnancy and childbirth also make the girls much more vulnerable to an obstructed labour. Cultural beliefs and traditions sometimes also prevent the girls from seeking the necessary medical care they need.

What is the impact of obstetric fistula on the life of women?

‘Obstetric fistula leaves women without hope’

As women with obstetric fistula are unable to control the flow of waste, they are often isolated due to their ‘foul smell’. Her community will almost always detach themselves from her. In many cases, her husband will also leave her and send her back to her own family.

‘She is scorned, bewildered, humiliated and isolated, often being cursed by God.’ – New York Times Column “New life for the Pariahs” on October 31st, 2009

Yet… it is neglected

Despite how life-threatening the condition is, fistula receives very little attention from the media and funding is virtually non-existent, representing 0.07% of annual global health funding. Awareness of fistula is limited as this condition is very rare in Europe and the US.

99% of women who get obstetric fistula will never have a chance at treatment and in order to stop this from happening, we need to raise our awareness of the condition.


Photos from: (World Health Organisation)

Further reading: