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Walthamstow School for Girls

Science News

News from our Science Faculty

For more information about subjects taught by this Faculty, please see the subject page for Science

To contact our Science Faculty staff, please click here.

Is There Extraterrestrial Life Out There?  

Is There Extraterrestrial Life Out There? 

I recently read a book by Professor Avi Loeb titled Extraterrestrial. Professor Loeb is Harvard University's top astronomer and one of the leading scientists in the world, hence his book captured my imagination. 

In 2017, a Hawaiian observatory glimpsed a strange object soaring through our inner solar system towards the sun. It followed an unusual orbit towards the sun, and suddenly changed direction leaving no trail of debris or gas. This is very unusual as asteroids or comets will always leave behind debris of some sort, yet this leaves nothing. It also managed to break the gravitational pull of the sun. 

Most astrophysicists ignored this as they were essentially getting on with other research but Professor Loeb thought this quite important. What followed were several calculations and research to examine further what this strange object was, as well as the famous portrait of the cigar shaped object postulated (see below) named Oumumuamua. 

Professor Loeb goes on to hypothesize that this was an extraterrestrial object possibly from another planet in the universe. He outlines how the universe was all created at the same time, so it is likely, given its size, that there is other life out there no matter how advanced or primitive. There is currently the SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) project in place, but this gets little funding and top Scientists tend to stay away from it as it is not very popular.  

Loeb (whilst a fan of science fiction) outlines how it can be unhelpful. People believe if there was extraterrestrial life they would suddenly appear with a big bang, yet in more likelihood they are probably in the same position as us searching the vast universe for possible signs. 

I felt the book offered a more realistic approach moving away from the Hollywood Marvel idea on the matter of extraterrestrial life, yet it is backed by a prominent Harvard professor suggesting that if he believes in it, then it is a very real possibility. 

If you do have further questions on this, I will direct you towards our resident astrophysicist Mr Betts who I am sure will be happy to discuss this with you. 

Mr Kerr 

Head of Science  

'All that Glitters is not Gold!'  

'All that Glitters is not Gold!' 

During this year's summer holidays, I decided to preoccupy myself with a bit of science and investigation. In the science unit, I enjoy physics and biology. In particular, I find enjoyment in magnifying certain objects and viewing things where the naked eye cannot see. I find it interesting and quite fun. In addition to this, I also enjoy performing “experiments” to comprehend what reactions may or may not occur. 

While I was outside, during the night, I had my flashlight on and decided to take a walk. Throughout this stroll, something slightly shiny and reflective caught my eye. Knowing my dad has recently purchased a microscope, I decided to check out the unknown object. I soon realized it was some sort of rock, therefore I made up my mind to take it home with me and study it.  

Throughout the next few days, I analysed the rock under a microscope and found a few interesting things, I wanted to dig deeper in. Once I had done more research, a thought struck my head that some parts of the rock seemed like gold or a substance similar to gold. After this coming to my realization, I performed a few small “experiments” which included: testing the magnetic pull, measuring the mass of the rock, malleability test and acidity test (6%).  

The conclusion to my tests was: 

“Gold is extremely malleable and easy to chip and scratch off, the substance I have studied matches this result. In addition to this, the substance was reflective, like a mirror and weighed a total of “90 grams.” During the acidity test, I had placed the rock into white vinegar with 6% acidity. After a while, I noticed that some minerals were disintegrating as others stayed on. Although with the magnet testing, I noticed that I felt a very slim pull. This result was inaccurate as I performed this test using my hands (which are not stable.) Therefore, the magnetic pull test was N/A. With the results I have so far, my reason to believe the rock contained “gold” was debatable.” 

After running these few tests, I decided to extend my knowledge by emailing a few science teachers including Mr. Kerr, Ms. Oshodi and Mrs. Keserauskaite. They all replied to me with similar statements. I could be mistaken for pyrite (Fools gold), the mineral could have been iron, and the grain sizes are dependent on the cooling of magma.  

After the holidays had ended, Mrs. Keserauskaite asked me to bring in the rock for further analysis. I entrusted her with the rock for a few weeks and I received further results which another science technician had looked at, Ms. Rouse.  

Ms. Rouse has a degree in animal science and took A levels in all three sciences including chemistry, biology, and physics. Therefore, she is highly knowledgeable about science, including rocks. Ms. Rouse stated that she believes I have “gabbro”. Which has a density of 2.8125. Moreover, she stated that if my rock did contain gold, it would be an exceedingly small amount and it is uncertain unless a chemical analysis is performed on the rock, which she is unable to perform in school. 

I am pleased with these results and prefer to keep the rock as a “special find”. I would also like to thank all the teachers and staff that have helped me with my “investigation.” Thank you. 

Samanta Y9

 Science Faculty Word Search 

Words supplied by the Science Faculty  on the topic of Chemistry


Science Shows to watch during lockdown 

Here are some recommended Science programmes to watch during  this month's lockdown, these are all available on catch-up or to stream.

Ms Brunas
Science Faculty

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet - Netflix
John Bishop's Great Whale Rescue -   ITV Catch Up
Bears About the House - BBC Catch Up
Pain, Pus and Poison - BBC Catch Up
Chemistry: A Volatile History - BBC Catch Up
From Ice to Fire:  The Incredible Science of Temperature - BBC Catch Up
Secrets of Skin - BBC Catch Up


Black History Poster Competition Results

Students were asked to design a poster using researched information about any Black Scientist or a Scientist from the students’ countries of origin.

The winner and runners up received gift vouchers and all entrants received a GREEN point for Energy.

Well done girls!

Nkeonye 7H










Runners up:
Sadia – 8H










Saima – 8S










Ms Oshodi
Head of Key Stage 3 Science

Science Tips from the Chief Examiner 

As Head of the Science Faculty, I recently went to a Science Conference in Central London.  I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation by a Chief Examiner for Science who is responsible for writing the final exam questions. Some of the more interesting points for thought were based around how students tackle exam questions. His key tips focussed on:

· how students often overlook the words in bold such as tick two boxes, and how students need to really focus on these.

· often students do not read what the actual question is asking and start to lose marks by giving irrelevant details as opposed to focussing on what the question is after.

· It was also suggested that students should always use rulers when extrapolating information from a graph, for example, for half-lives, as students often draw these free-hand leading to inaccuracies and ultimately loss of marks.

· Whilst also discussing graphs he went on to say when completing graph questions requiring students to draw graphs they only really have one chance to get it right and should always draw it in pencil, as once students start crossing parts of the graph out examiners find it increasingly difficult to mark it and award marks.

There is actually a lot of reading to be done in Science exams, and students are encouraged to read quickly. Often questions worth two marks, where only two minutes should be spent on them, can have a further two minutes of reading involved leading to a rush to complete other questions.

The Chief Examiner went on to discuss the maths aspect linked to the Science papers. He highlighted:

· that all students should understand what the mean, median and range are and apply this to questions.

· There are a large number of questions linked to calculating percentages so it should be made sure that students are able to calculate these.

· Equally, care must be taken with some calculations as some of the numbers given in the calculations are not needed and there is the false assumption that all numbers should be used.

· There was also a big emphasis on students knowing all of their units as these often pick up marks in calculation questions.

There was a lot of discussion about required practicals and it was suggested that students look over these on YouTube so they are familiar with them.

The questions may involve:

· writing a step-by-step practical or commenting on results.

· It was noted for risk assessment questions, students often answer about wearing goggles and tying hair back where a much more tailored response is needed, for example care with using a Bunsen burner as you could burn yourself, or care with acids as they are corrosive and could harm your skin.

One of the key messages coming across was that 17% of all questions used the word ‘explain’ which many students overlooked and they often responded by stating things. For example, there is a significant difference between stating the colour of the sky as opposed to explaining the colour of the sky. When the word ‘explain’ is used in a question students should be using the word ‘because’ in their answer. Equally, when answering more extended questions students need to get straight to answering the questions as opposed to reiterating part of the question in the answer which gains no marks!

The final tip offered by the Chief Examiner was that students should practise exam questions from all exam boards not just AQA (our exam board). As examiners often “borrow” questions from other exam boards and just change some of the numbers and slightly re-word them.

I hope our students will find these tips useful. They were invaluable to me as Head of Science and I have shared all of this with all science teachers at Walthamstow School for Girls who suggested that they be shared with you, and especially for our Year 11 students who will soon sit their Science GCSE exams.

Best of luck (and hard work) to all our students!

Mr Kerr
Head of Science

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