From designing rockets to debating brain-enhancing drugs at Downe House

From designing rockets to debating brain-enhancing drugs at Downe House

8 November 2018

This year’s STEM Day brought together a variety of expert speakers from the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics who gave presentations and practical workshops designed to engage and inspire our Year 11 girls who were joined by pupils from Park House School in Newbury. The aims of the day are to both educate and encourage girls to consider the huge range of STEM-related subjects and future career opportunities open to them. This year’s STEM Day kicked off with an exciting keynote presentation by Emma Ayres from the BLOODHOUND Project giving us the full history of the project and an update on the latest attempt on building a supersonic car to set a new World Land Speed Record of 1,000mph.

The girls set off on a carousel of workshops including the opportunity to work in teams to build their own racing car, to design a rocket overseen by the engineers from AWE Aldermaston, to do some codebreaking on a real, working Enigma Machine from Bletchley Park and to build and test a LEGO MINDSTORMS robot under the careful supervision of Mr David McClymont, Downe House Director of IT, and Mr Gareth Bouwer, Head of ICT and Digital Strategy. Focusing on science were sessions on ‘Drugs testing using spectroscopy’ in which Shehla Minhas from the University of Reading tasked pupils with determining what is in a bottle of unlabeled white pills found in an Olympic competitor’s locker and a fascinating lecture on ‘Molecular Imaging in Cancer Medicine’ by Dr Martin Christlieb from the Department of Oncology at Oxford University.

We were delighted to welcome Eliza Botham from the Canal and River Trust who taught the girls about the role of an environmental scientist and set a challenge based on lock design as well as Dr Michael Bruyns-Haylett from the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College who spoke about how the brain works through the different types of illusions that we experience such as ‘seeing faces’. In the Explorer Dome, the topic of ‘The ethics of using brain-enhancing drugs’ sparked some very spirited debates as the presenters posed a series of moral questions from ‘Is it time to give nature a helping hand?’ to ‘Would you take a pill to become smarter?’.

Head of Science, Miss Christina Pugsley said, “STEM Day provides the Upper Fifth girls and our guests from Park House with a day packed with workshops, each of which focuses on a different STEM topic – from the global adventure that is the Bloodhound Project to the debate around the use of brain-enhancing drugs. I would like to thank all of our presenters who so willingly shared their skills, knowledge and passion for the areas they work in as well as all the Downe House staff whose help makes all the difference to the smooth running of the day.” STEM day concluded with a lively question and answer session where a number of thought-provoking questions were posed and discussed by our panel of STEM experts.

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