Another week and another successful Science club meeting – well, almost…..


As the year 7 and 8 science enthusiasts began to get to grips with some rocket building, a small glitch almost spelt disaster for the meeting!

Instead of building some mini-rockets, the girls got to begin thinking about how best to design their rockets, and discuss the best way to test them.

Should we aim for the highest rocket launch? Or the greatest distance travelled? Or should we aim to launch our rockets as fast as possible?


These are all factors the girls came up with to investigate, and we will be looking at investigating them all in next weeks club! So if you couldn’t make it today, make sure you come along for some rocket building next Thursday! 12.45pm in Science 5 🙂

Miss Gilleece 🙂

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Welcome back!

Posted: September 27, 2012 by Mr Pimentao in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Loreto Science is back , and welcomes everybody to a new year of discovery.
A year of exciting activities is just beginning, so we’d like to invite you to join Miss Gilleece on a journey through the world of Mad science every Thursday at 12:45 in SC5.

This week saw year 7 and 8 students getting to grips with lighting effects. The group enjoyed using prisms and filters to come up with some spectacular images (and stories!) for their light shows – with some trying to act out an X-Factor audition!

The club will hopefully see students gaining a Crest award by the end of the year; some of the topics we will touch on will include rockets and medical physics, alongside a project the girls will design for their Crest award.

So if you haven’t already come, don’t worry!! You can drop in any Thursday, but I’d love to see you there every week! 🙂

See you all next Thursday!

Miss Gilleece

Over 6th July 21 AS/A2 Biology students (and Dr Paul and I) set off to Snowdonia to study ecology as part of the A2 Biology course. 

North Wales

Staying at a Field Studies Council centre in Betws-y-coed, the first evening began with setting Longworth mammal traps (non-lethal) so that we could get an estimate of the population of small mammals in the centre grounds. After dinner we had a bonfire and a game of football on a pretty muddy pitch (it had rained most of the day whilst we travelled) but it was good fun.

The following day we checked our mammal traps before breakfast. Another school had also set mammal traps but they hadn’t gone to such great lengths to conceal them and subsequently the squirrels had raided the traps and eaten all the bait. 

Wood Mouse

Our traps however were untouched, and yielded 4 wood mice and 3 bank voles.

Bank vole

After letting them go we travelled by coach to Morfa Harlech, a nature reserve with a textbook-quality sand dune system. Walking across the dunes from the sea towards the land allowed us to record the changes in plant and animals species and the local environment, highlighting the process of succession. At the end of the dune system is woodland that was once bare sand but over time has been colonised by successive plant communities.

Sand dunes at Morfa Harlech

That evening the students worked in the classroom to process their results, and then we played another game of football.

Sunday saw us travelling to Penmon Point on Anglesey to study a rocky shore.

Penmon Point, with Puffin Island in the distance

Penmon Point

 Starting at the low water mark we moved higher above sea level, recording the changes in types of seaweed and plants, limpets, barnacles and crabs.

Velvet Swimming Crab

 Rocky shores exhibit something called ‘zonation’ – the distribution of the different organisms is heavily influenced by different local environmental conditions.

On the return from Penmon Point we stopped off briefly at Cwm Idwal, a spectacular corrie (bowl-shaped glacial valley) formed by over 2 million years of glaciation.

Cwm Idwal

The glacier is long since gone, although it has left a crystal-clear lake in its place. Cwm Idwal is special for many reasons, but particularly since it is home to the incredibly rare Welsh Tufted Saxifrage, an alpine plant that is a leftover from the time when Britain was much colder just after the last ice age.

Tufted Saxifrage – a survivor from the last Ice Age.

 The plant clings on to life on the cold backwall of the valley where few other plants can survive.

That evening didn’t see any football – instead the students dressed up as pirates and took part in a treasure hunt and then a piratey sing-song around a roaring fire!

Monday was our last day, but the morning was spent collecting invertebrates from a fast-flowing freshwater stream and then looking for a correlation between the different species and the velocity of the water.

A cased caddisfly larvae from a freshwater stream.

After that, we travelled by train back to London – rather tired but having had a really good trip. The students were amazing – they worked so hard, got really enthusiastic about everything and were a credit to themselves. Well done!

On 4th July students and staff took part in the 24 Hour Water Rocket Challenge, a World Record attempt. Organised by the University of Central Lancashire and NASA, the aim is to have as many water rockets launched around the world in a 24 hour period.

Water rockets are really simple to make – they’re just 2L bottles with some water and high pressure air, but the result is amazing. Taking off at speeds of around 90mph, experiencing forces 60 time greater than gravity and reaching heights of at least 45m, they’re a great way to experience forces and momentum in action.

We were lucky enough to have two witnesses from local business Cotswold Camping (thanks Jim and Ant) and managed to achieve 16 separate launches over lunchtime. I’ll update this post when I hear if the World Record was beaten, but it’ll take a while for the organisers to count and verify all the results.

Thanks to all those that took part or came and watched.

Read more at the St Albans Review newsite

A water rocket blasts off from Space Station Loreto! (photo from St Albans Review – thanks!)

The 21st of July 2012 played host to the annual Maths and Science Day. Maths and Science Day allows all year 8 students to work off timetable for the enire day, working in teams to solve scientific and engineering challenges. Deviating from the task of previous years (parachutes for eggs) the teams this year were set the challenge of building a bridge that covers a 50cm span using only spaghetti and hot-melt glue.

The girls got straight to work, ably assisted by Yr 12 students. They worked really well together, with each student contributing to the team design.

Eventually, when all the bridges were built it was time to test them. Bridges were gradually loaded with more and more force until they broke. The winning team would be the one with the highest load:weight ratio. After a nailbiting testing session, a winner was declared – Team 25 with a load:weight ratio of 11:1!

Bridge 25 – the winning bridge!

After this the teams got together to create a poster explaining their design, the science behind the engineering of bridges and an evaluation of their bridges performance. Team 10 were judged to have the best poster for their careful analysis of why their bridge collapsed with only 10g on it!

A spaghetti bridge, inspired by a Warren Truss bridge

Every team worked incredibly well – their bridges may not have held a great load but they all produced a structure which they could be proud of.

Testing bridges

Funding for the purchase of the hot-melt glue guns and the spaghetti was kindly provided by the Institute of Physics (IoP) http://www.iop.org/ , so many thanks to them for making this event possible.

So, we’re getting to that time of year where Easter and Summer holidays are starting to creep into our thoughts…But spare a thought (and a prayer) for all those students who will be spending their Easter break preparing for upcoming exams! So here’s a few ideas to help kick start your revision, and hopefully help lead to the grades you are capable of! 🙂

  1. Know what exams you are doing and when – if you are sitting GCSEs or A-levels, your exam timetables will be available to you via your exam board; If you are doing KS3 exams, your teachers will tell you when your exams are – make sure you ask! Once you know when you are doing your exams you should….
  2. Make a revision timetable – A3 size is best, put it somewhere you will see it, and be realistic!! If you know you’re not going to miss **insert whatever TV programme you cannot live without**, then don’t plan to do revision in that time!
  3. Timings – Decide how much time you need to revise each subject and add this to your revision timetable – if you know you’re good at science, then don’t spend as much time on it as you would a subject you struggle with. Once you know when you are supposed to be revising, and what you need to do, then get to it! 🙂 Remember the following also…….
  4. Take a break – for every half hour you study, you should take a 5 minute break. Your brain will need a rest! Try to resist the urge of turning on your laptop or TV for those 5 minutes – it will leave it harder for you to return to your revision. Take a short walk, get some fresh air instead.
  5. Brain food – Increase your mental agility and help improve your memory by choosing the right foods such as oily fish, wholegrain etc. (or if you are like Miss Gilleece who hates fish, you can buy supplements instead of the fish…)

There are so many books, teachers and websites that can help you with your revision, but you do need to know where to look.

Normally your teachers should be your first port of call – remember they know what they’ve been teaching you, and what exam boards are looking for in your answers, so always ask if you’re unsure!

If you opt for buying a revision guide, please make sure you check it is suitable for your level of exam and exam board! Any good book shop should sell a range of revision guides, don’t be afraid to open it up and see if it looks like a good one! (Just don’t try reading it from start to finish without paying for it!!)

Some websites you might find useful:

www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/ for KS3 and GCSE

www.s-cool.co.uk for GCSE and A- level

http://revisioncentre.co.uk/ for GCSE

www.channel4learning.com/ for KS3 and GCSE

http://www.topmarks.co.uk/ a search engine dedicated to finding revision resources

Welcome to part 2 of the Arthropods special, and today I’m giving you a whistle-stop tour of the myriapods. This group includes centipedes and millipedes (as well as a couple of less important relatives), with approximately 12,000 species currently known.

Centipedes and millipedes are common enough if you look through leaf litter or under stones and flowerpots in the garden. What’s the difference between centipedes and millipedes? Well, a common mistake is about the number of legs (i.e. 100 for a centipede and 1000 for a millipede – this isn’t true). The number of legs in a centipede varies between 20 to 300, and in millipedes ranges from 36 to 750.

The easy way to distinguish between a centipede and a millipede is to look for the number of legs per body segment. A centipede has 2 legs per body segment and a millipede has 4 legs per body segment. They also differ in terms of diet – centipedes are active hunters and carnivores whilst millipedes are detritivores (eating decaying leaves).

Centipedes and millipedes are a very successful group, and have been around on the Earth for at least 440 million years. An earlier relative of centipedes and millipedes called Arthropleura lived 300 million years ago and was able to reach lengths of 2.5m. This makes it the largest land invertebrate ever, and could grow this large due to higher concentrations of atmospheric oxygen at the time.

So, here are some interesting photos of centipedes and millipedes from around the world. Enjoy!

Arthropods are great. I love ’em!

What are arthropods, you might be thinking? Well, the term arthropod (from the Greek for ‘jointed foot’) describes organisms that have hard exoskeletons, segmented body and jointed limbs – animals such as insects and spiders.

Arthropods are a remarkably successful group,  tracing their history back to a common ancestor that lived aabout 500 million years ago. Thanks to their hard waterproof exoskeletons they did very well in the sea, and were in fact the first animals on land. They later diversified into at 5 main groups:

  • Myriapods – including centipedes and millipedes
  • Chelicerata – including spiders, scorpions, horseshoe crabs and mites
  • Trilobites – an extinct group of marine animals (looked a bit like woodlice, but weren’t related)
  • Crustaceans – including crabs, lobsters, shrimp, barnacles and woodlice
  • Insects– including ants, bees, beetles and butterflies

    The arthropod family tree

There are at least over 1 million known species, and they make up 80% of all living species (that means if you took 100 random species from anywhere on the Earth, approximately 80 of them would be arthropods). They are incredibly populous – a conservative estimate of the number of insects alone (currently alive) is 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s 10 quintillion). That’s quite a lot.

So, in celebration of these fascinating and diverse organisms, this is part 1 of 5, each focusing on a different arthropod group. First up is Chelicerata – enjoy!

 

Is there anybody out there?

Posted: February 26, 2012 by Mr Pimentao in Biology, Space
Tags: , , , ,

Forget about little green men, ET or Alien – they don’t exist. Or at least we don’t have any proof that they do. Despite this, the search for extra terrestrial life is now as lively as ever : from the discoveries of planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy to the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) project, scientists are scrambling to find a glimpse of life away from our own home planet.

Exoplanets and the Goldilocks principle

Exoplanets are planets that orbit stars other than the Sun. For decades astronomers had suspected that other stars in our galaxy might have planets orbiting them ( just like the Sun has Mercury , Venus, Earth, and so on… ) Like all the other scientific predictions, you can only confirm it if you have enough evidence to back it up. Guess what – for the last ten years or so, astronomers have found evidence that in fact there are planets orbiting stars in our galaxy.

Planet in transit across the star disc: Picture: ESO/L. Calçada

The problem with seeing planets orbiting stars so far away from us is that the brightness of the star outshines the tiny amount of light reflected by the planet. Only very recently , with developments in image processing software and improvements in CCD technology have scientists been able to detect planets. But this doesn’t even mean that we can actually “see” the planets – we can’t , at least not directly. We must look for clues in how the light from these stars reaches us.

One way of telling if a star has planets orbiting it is called the “Planetary transit” method.   Whenever a planet is placed between us and the star, we can detect a small decrease in the brightness of the star. Imagine a mosquito flying in front of a lamp – whenever it flies between us and the lamp, we can see that the lamp seems to get dimmer because the mosquito blocks a tiny bit of its light.  The same happens with a planet that orbits around a far away star. Every so often the planet blocks some of the star’s light and the star appears to have dimmed by a  little amount. Scientists look out for these tiny changes in the brightness of stars and use their data to compare the size of the planet with the size of the star.

This is all fine, there are more planets in the Universe than those we have learnt about in Miss Gileece’s lesson…. My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets… But is there life living on them? Do they have BBM?

The answer is….. we can’t tell if there is life on any of the exoplanets that were found, let alone whether or not they have BBM. One thing we know is that life as we know it has first appeared in liquid water –  right here on Earth, millions of years ago. So, we can be certain that planets where liquid water exists are more likely to have life.  The planets that obey this condition must be at the right distance from their star for the temperature to be just right for liquid water to exist. Depending on the kind of star , and on the size and composition of the planet, the temperature is just right for liquid water if the planet orbits the star at a range of distances often called “the Goldilocks region”.

This raises the question: how do we know if these exoplanets have liquid water? And if they do have liquid water does that definitely mean that they have some kind of life?  Life on Earth evolved in water , but there are so many variables to take into account that it is currently impossible to prove that there is indeed other life forms in the Universe.

So, if you were expecting a YES or NO answer to the question you may now be disappointed (or not!). All we can say is that most probably there is life somewhere in the Universe, possibly in a planet orbiting one of the hundreds of million stars in our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Charles Darwin, happy birthday to you!

Happy Birthday Darwin!

On this day in 1809 Charles Darwin, arguably one of the most important scientists ever, was born in Shropshire. Charles Darwin is famous for his book On the Origin of the Species where he introduced ideas to explain the origin and diversity of all living species via Natural Selection and Evolution. Darwin was interested in most things, and his work as a geologist and naturalist gave him to opportunity to travel around the world on a 5-year voyage aboard the ship HMS Beagle. Keeping careful notes and making copious observations during the expedition, Darwin saw great biodiversity and it allowed to him to begin considering the origin of this. When he returned to England he began to formulate his idea of Natural Selection.

HMS Beagle

What is Natural Selection?

Darwin had noted that nearly all the species he had encountered were perfectly adapted to a variety of different habitats, diets and lifestyles. His visit to the Galapagos Islands (near Ecuador) had allowed him to study a group of birds (now known as Darwin’s Finches). He was amazed at the variety of different beak shapes and sizes, each adapted to a different way of life.

The Galapagos Islands

How did this happen? Natural selection requires three factors. The first is variation (differences) between individuals. The second is competition between organisms (e.g. not enough food to feed every organism) and finally an environmental change.

Darwin postulated that originally a group of finches arrived at the Galapagos islands from mainland Ecuador. There was variation of beak size within this group of finches. Because there were different food sources on the island (seeds, fruit, insects etc) different beak sizes were more suitable for different diets. For example, large beaks would be able to break open seeds that smaller beaks wouldn’t. If there were plentiful seeds, the larger beaked birds would find more food, have more offspring and therefore pass on the genes for the larger beak. This would continue as long as larger beaks gave a survival advantage. Eventually, with successive generations and continued ‘selection’ for a certain feature, the original population of birds diversified into many different species.

Darwin's Finches

Darwin realised that this same process, occuring over millions of years, could explain the diversity of all living (and extinct) species.

The Theory of Evolution has shaped our understanding of diversity, formation of new species and our position in the Tree of Life. So, thanks Darwin, and Happy Birthday!

The Tree of Life