Ella, 17, is a science student and enthusiast of all things quantum physics. She has recently completed a research project in Caenorhabditis elegans, a nematode worm linked to epigenetics research. Provided she doesn't fail her upcoming exams, she hopes to study medicine with a focus on forensic pathology.
In order to celebrate eleven years of incredible scientific work in the age category of 12-20, the Young Scientist Journal hosted a conference at Queen's College, Cambridge, on 12th October 2017. I was fortunate enough to attend on behalf of my school to present a poster on the work we've been doing on stress responses in C. elegans.
The day itself was broken up into three lectures, with a workshop running at the same time for those interested; two sets of student presentations, which ranged from medical advances thanks to World War One, to the pros and cons of setting up a Mars colony, and of course, the poster reception during the breaks and lunch.
The first guest speaker was Nicole Liew, an undergraduate natural scientist, with a focus on biology. The research she has been doing focuses on the model organism D. rerio, better known as zebrafish larvae. Nicole proved to be an engaging and witty speaker, providing an excellent insight into life as a researching student, and her presentation was thoroughly enjoyed by all present.
Meanwhile, a CREST Workshop shed some light on the CREST Award scheme - this engages students from ages 5 to 19 in research projects, with a recognised certification by the end. Neil Trevethan, the presenter, assured us that a CREST Award can be very easily linked to your own hobbies or interests - from investigating different skins on a drum set, to determining how the weight distribution on a double decker school bus could cause it to topple over. We were given a (shh, secret!) code as well, to achieve a CREST Award for free.
After a tea break, the next set of talks began. In the main lecture theatre, Dr Michael Sutherland was discussing quantum physics and superconductors. If this, in contrast to Nicole's lecture, doesn't display the huge diversity of incredible minds at the Conference, I don't know what will!
In the Workshop, Niek d'Hondt, a guest from Belgium and founder of Ekoli, was teaching us how to better communicate science to those who aren't scientists. This had a heavy focus on storytelling, which he explained made concepts more engaging to an audience of a less scientific nature. It was very useful, and allowed us as students, who may have had trouble presenting our vast array of research, to structure our work in a way that can be understood. Niek also turned out to be a huge fan of The Matrix, so naturally I had to take a selfie after the talk.
This led on to the first set of student presentations. These varied from the Vertigo Project at Sutton Grammar, a device which measured G-force and acceleration, to Translocatome, presented by one of the lovely guests from Hungary, on translocation proteins in cells. The five presentations were all of an incredibly high standard, and I'd like to take the time here to congratulate all of them on their amazing research, and equally exciting presentations.
Lunch saw the beginning of the poster reception, and the judges cracked down on us, asking questions about our research. For the most part, I was discussing how my research came to be (after all, working with C. elegans on something as bizarre as heat-shock and epigenetics raises a few questions). I was also quizzed on my personal involvement on the project, as well as how much others were included. My own research - which I may write an Lablinn article on one day! - was something I led myself, and I was fortunate enough to have some excellent mentors in my biology teacher and scientists from the Babraham Institute, the partner in our research. It was, however, not a solo mission. Alongside a team of around twenty other students, we worked on these worms for around six months. After this, we got the lower years involved in trying to isolate a strain of wild C. elegans in the soil by burying bruised fruit to draw them out. While these attempts were fruitless, the judges were impressed by the teamwork that went into it.
Thus began the next group of student presentations, with an even more impressive mix than before lunch. Despite being mostly biological research, these talks ranged from an iron home testing kit for less privileged countries, to the ethics concerned with end of life patients. All of the students received some tough questions from the crowd, some about the science, and some about personal development and reflection. Suffice to say, all ten presentations were worth remembering, as well as being incredibly worthy research.
The final talk of the day, from Professor Dame Frances Ashcroft, was one highlighting that science isn't always undertaken in big cities. She began kindling an interest in wild orchids as a child in a Dorset village, before moving into the field of diabetic research.
In the workshop, on the other hand, Becky Parker was gearing up interest in IRIS - Independent Research in Schools - which partake in a huge range of projects. The ones launching currently (or very soon!) include projects investigating ionic liquids, the melting ice caps, or genome sequencing, to name a few. These projects are 'adopted' by several schools, which collaborate to undertake the research.
The much anticipated student awards followed, in which the co-founder, Christina Astin, and Professor Dame Frances, presented the certificates to all eighteen posters and presentations. The winning presentation was the home iron testing kit from the Judd School. To my surprise, the winning poster was me. This was followed by a panel of speakers, made up of Nicole Liew, Dr Jonathon McMaster, Dr Michael Sutherland, and Dr Malcom Morgan. All of our university based questions were answered here, thanks to the coverage of all four STEM subjects represented by the panel - at least, for those of us who weren't in Year 13 on early admission deadlines!
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and that included the conference! However, that doesn't mean that the work, or the science, ends there. My thanks to all those involved in organising this wonderful event, and my congratulations to all who took part and made this event one to remember!
You can find more information at https://ysjournal.com, http://researchinschools.org, and http://crestawards.org.