Shrewsbury School

More Masterclasses for STEM Potential students

Wednesday 24 November 2021

It has been great to welcome back our Year 10 and Year 11 cohorts, after the flying start to the STEM Potential programme they made last half-term!

On 6th and 13th November respectively, students from Shrewsbury, Oswestry and Market Drayton took part in a further three masterclasses that are at the heart of STEM Potential. 

For the Year 11s, Mr Fitton kicked off the day with a mathematical modelling class; I believe the group worked out that to lift a house using only helium balloons, they would need a number in the millions… perhaps they ran out of time, but I’d like to know how much of the sky they would fill! No doubt these exercises proved good consolidation of GCSE skills. 

Following on, the Year 11s where then treated to visiting teacher Steve Adams’ seminar on refraction. Steve taught Physics at Shrewsbury before retiring a few years ago but was drawn back into boarding school life at Oundle as their Head of STEM Outreach; he has helped to get their STEM Potential programme off the ground, and it has been fantastic to collaborate with him again.  

The day concluded, after lunch, with a titration skills workshop led by Jake Sidhu, also visiting from Oundle, where he is the Imperial Outreach Fellow.  

For the Year 10 cohort, the day consisted of Biology with Miss Micklewright, investigating the quantity of protein in different birds’ eggs, followed by discussion on why there would be a difference for different species. This required careful calibration of colorimeters and really developed the students’ hands-on analytical skills.  

They then undertook an investigation using the reflective properties of waves to find the optimal shape of surface to focus incoming light rays at a single point – the principle behind satellite dishes, and the reverse of a car headlamp. Using ripple tanks to make initial observations before arranging mirrors around a small light, the students found (spoiler alert!) that the surface should be parabolic. Mr Cooley was able to demonstrate the headlamp effect using sound, as extremely quietly played music was made audible across the length of the room by placing the speaker at the focus of a parabolic mirror. 

Mr Murray rounded things off in Chemistry with a practical workshop on how to determine the identity of unknown substances in the laboratory and a brief look at the principles behind spectroscopes. 

Complementary to the masterclass events, we are collaborating with Imperial and Oundle by offering ‘Meet the Researcher’ talks for all STEM Potential year groups (10-13) once each half-term. These enable the pupils to understand the breadth of industry and research that STEM courses could lead to and perhaps find their own passion.  

In addition, the ability to ask researchers and student ambassadors at Imperial questions directly, that relate either to their research or life at university, is a brilliant opportunity and helps to both build confidence and make attending a university like Imperial feel much more achievable. Research talks this year on measuring biodiversity using recorded rainforest background noise, effectively harnessing geothermal energy, developing cures for tuberculosis or Alzheimer’s and the technology developed for use on the latest Mars Rover have all been fascinating and enjoyable. 

Mr Wray 

Head of Science Outreach 

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