Monmouth Science Initiative

Monmouth School Science Department continues with its exciting venture to promote science in Wales and to stimulate pupils to actively consider a career in research based science. The initiative involves sixth form pupils from Monmouth School and HMSG working with pupils from local comprehensives on practical science activities, using the facilities and expertise of the Haberdashers’ Schools. The aim is to develop many of the practical skills one would expect of second year undergraduates studying for science degrees. There is also an exciting additional extended project where students build radio telescopes that they use to investigate the ionosphere.

The scheme is now in its seventh year and 60 pupils from five local schools are taking part in a range of advanced level practical investigations rotating through biological, chemical and the physical sciences. The aim is to encourage them to acquire advanced scientific skills and to enhance their understanding of the importance of science in the modern world. Students undertake weekly practical activities in each of the three sciences. In biology, pupils used an extracted gene from jelly fish and inserted it into E. coli in order to make these bacteria glow under UV light.  They then moved on to extracting their own DNA and amplifying it using the polymerase chain reaction and then using electricity to separate out their DNA in order to look for polymorphisms.  In chemistry, carotene was extracted and paracetamol synthesised, yet not tested! The physics rotation saw students programming robots, building radios, investigating operational research and building and selling armoured military vehicles made out of Lego! A small dedicated cohort continued to work on the radio telescope project, having won a grant from the Royal Society.   On two occasions during the year, students visit Cardiff University and undertake a range of exercises typical of those given to undergraduates. The University generously allow them to use valuable equipment and several senior staff give up their time to work with them. A wide range of departments, including biosciences, engineering, chemistry, pharmacy, optometry and the Heath Hospital, provide opportunities for visits.

The scheme also welcomes outside providers at various point during the course. Members of Cassidian (formerly EADS) who are at the forefront of research and development in defence and security systems run three sessions during the year. During these afternoons, students embark upon an engineering based project where they design, build and attempt to sell a defence style ‘Lego’ vehicle. Students are introduced to the concept of Operational Research and its application in the wider world in sessions organised by Professor Paul Harper of Cardiff University.


The annual conference was a great success and we were lucky enough to secure an eminent speaker on mathematics, Matt Parker. He gave an excellent talk on the mathematics that can be found in the cartoon series “The Simpsons” and his audience were intrigued by the complex formulae that can be found within such an amusing programme.  Matt was ably supported by Sam Dursley, who was a regional winner in the “FameLab” competition.  This tests the ability of scientists to communicate ideas to the general public and Sam proved himself to be a worthy contestant by clearly communicating the complex concepts around DNA to his young audience.  The conference ended with a magnificent display of chemical pyrotechnics by our own ever reliable duo of Dr Clark and Dr Danks!

Professor Steve Jones asked the question “Is man just another animal?”

This year we welcomed eminent geneticist Professor Steve Jones to discuss the evolution of man and ask the question “Is man just another animal?”.

Most people will have heard of Charles Darwin, the author of “The Origin of Species”.  However, his co-author Alfred Russel Wallace is less familiar to the general public, yet many in the scientific community believe that these two scientists were at least equals and some would even consider Wallace to be superior to Darwin in his ideas.

Wallace was born close to Usk and the centenary of his death is being celebrated by a series of events in the local region.  On Thursday 3rd October, approximately 450 A Level students and some talented GCSE pupils gathered in the Blake Theatre, Monmouth School to watch a drama presentation entitled “You should ask Wallace” and to hear the eminent geneticist Professor Steve Jones discuss the evolution of man and ask the question “Is man just another animal?”.

Pupils attended from nine different schools, some coming from as far as Devon and they enjoyed a high quality performance by Ioan Hefin of Theatr na nÓg in the role Wallace.  He gave a dramatic presentation of the events in Wallace’s life and we came to understand why, when Darwin was asked a question about evolution, he would frequently reply “you should ask Wallace”.

Professor Steve Jones gave a stimulating talk which mixed science and human social development and covered such areas as the evolution of language and the changes that have happened in humans since the agricultural revolution.  He is a gifted speaker and managed to entertain his audience as well as to inform them. His talk was followed by several probing questions from the pupils and it was clear that this topic had provoked intellectual debate amongst the audience.

The event was sponsored by Cardiff University and the Linnean Society and we are grateful for their support.  We are also grateful to the schools who made the effort to attend and for their positive feedback .

MSI has now been given as an example of sector leading practice in a recent STEM publication produced by the National Science Academy and this is both supported and publicised by the Welsh Assembly. We are the only school represented in the case studies and it is hoped that this beneficial publicity will help MSI develop still further and continue to deliver high level science to the community.