Posts Tagged ‘climate’

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!

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On 7th February 48 students from Year 11, (accompanied by Mr Bilton, Miss Vine, Mr Pimentao and Miss Gilleece) travelled to Essex to visit the npower-operated Tilbury Power Station. The students study the generation of electricity as part of their course, so this was an excellent opportunity to see where it all happens. The Tilbury site was originally a coal-fired power station, but this year it switched to using biomass as the fuel source, as part of a programme to be ‘greener’ and depend on renewable sources.

Tilbury Power Station

The biomass used at Tilbury is wood pellets, produced from the sawdust and waste of the Canadian lumber industry, so it’s a good use of a material that would otherwise just be wasted. It also has less impact in terms of CO2 production than coal, because it’s not burning carbon that’s been locked away for millions of years.

Properly kitted out in hard-hats, ear defenders and high-visibility jackets the students were taken on a tour of the power station, at one point standing inside a 65m furnace which reaches temperatures of 1500ºC (luckily for the students it wasn’t on at the time…). The scale of the facility is hard to imagine, but it gives you an appreciation of engineering behind the process.

Safety first - hard-hats and ear defenders!

The process of electrical generation is actually remarkable simple. When the biomass arrives it is crushed and then blasted into the furnace where it burns. The furnace is lined with pipes that contain ultra-pure water. As this water heats up it turns to steam. This high-pressure steam is used to turn turbines (converting heat energy into kinetic energy), and the turbines rotate an electro-magnet within a coil of wire. The movement of a magnet within a coil of wire creates the electrical current (thanks Faraday!) and that’s all there is to it.

Generating electricity - what's happening inside?

The students were also able to study some of the chemistry and biology surrounding the issue of power generation. Using conductivity meters the students recorded how many dissolved ions and minerals were in drinking and filtered water. They then compared it to water that had been through an ion-exchamge resin and were surprised to see that there were no ions left at all. This super-pure water (which actually tasted a little bland) has to be used in the power station to prevent damage to the pipes (picture the inside of your kettle..). The students then had a look at the local water quality by pond-dipping and looking for indicator species; species that tell you how clean the water is by their presence or absence. Having found a variety of insects including Common Backswimmers, Damselfy nymphs and Diving Beetles (and even some fish) everyone was surprised to conclude the water so near a power station was actually good quality and supported a diverse community.

Damselfly nymph - this larval form indicates good water quality

Common Backswimmer - this insect swims upside down

The students had a really good time and certainly learned lots about where their electricity comes from and how best to manage our energy resources so that we can live in a sustainable and ecologically-sensitive way. Many thanks too to the staff at the power station for giving us such an enjoyable day!

What’s the link between zebras, climate change and giant lasers?

The answer is they’re just a few of the topics discussed by some of the country’s top scientists at the GCSE Science Live! Event on the 25th November. Mr Bilton and Mrs Camm took 32 members of 11 Sci 1 to the talks held at the Dominion Theatre, London.

The event attracted around 1600 GCSE students from across the country, who had gathered to listen to five scientists discuss a range of fascinating topics.

Prof. Steve Jones, a geneticist, talked about the relative merits of the nature vs nurture argument. Prof. Sir David King, who was once the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, spoke about Climate Change and the problems that will need to be tackled in the future. The infamous Prof. Richard Dawkins posed the question ‘Is Evolution Predictable’ and Dr Kate Lancaster explored the use of high-powered lasers to trigger nuclear fusion reactions – a source of incredible energy. The talk was concluded by chemist Prof. Andrea Sella, who looked at the connection between chemical reactions and the patterns found in the skins and fur of animals.

The talks were delivered in a thoroughly engaging manner by scientists that conveyed their passion and love of the subject. The students really enjoyed themselves and were still discussing the lectures several days later.

The 5 scientists who spoke at GCSE Science Live!