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Extended science projects

Extended science projects
Tho-Quang, Gautham, Victor, Callum and Kiran.
Thursday 30th April 2015 by C. Freeman

Each year our Sixth Formers are given the opportunity to take part in an extended project in a subject of their choice that underpins their knowledge and gives them the opportunity to research and present their findings. Here’s what some of our Sixth Formers, who are planning careers in science and medicine, have been investigating:

Callum Ward said: ‘My project is on determinism, which is the belief that the future can be known. I approached it from a physics angle including the mathematics behind it, the theories and whether it would be a viable belief to hold in our modern era. There are some aspects of philosophy that I included but mostly I was approaching it from an angle to do with quantum equations.

'My conclusion was even though in physics it may be possible for the future to be perfectly known there are certain things that are limiting our knowledge. If the laws of physics are correct they are not affected by time. If you throw a ball up it lands in a certain place. If you do that over a long period of time, like several years, where would the ball be? You could work that out but it gets very complicated.

'I spent around 30 to 40 hours on the project including research, looking for resources, writing the report and doing the presentation. I liked finding out about new things, expanding my own knowledge and finding that physics applies to real world problems that I hadn’t seen from a certain angle before and learning what physics is capable of.'

Kiran Joshi said: ‘My extended project looked at how medicine is becoming more personalised. Currently medicine has a ‘one size fits all’ approach and there are some alarming statistics – 75 per cent of cancer drugs will be ineffective or 40 per cent of anti depressants won’t work. 99 per cent of our DNA is identical but 1 per cent is different and that 1 per cent has huge effects on how we react to certain treatments.

‘I was looking at how we can design drugs for specific populations of patients to ensure that they will react in the way required. I also looked at future applications – how smart phones can be used and the NHS is looking into how doctors can prescribe apps. A GP showed me an ECG scanner on his phone. He had a case with two electrodes on so the phone will take an ECG. He could give the app and case to a patient so, rather than patients staying on a ward for 24 hours for monitoring they can be at home taking regular checks and the results are sent automatically. I looked at different challenges and barriers that would affect the implementation of personalised medicine, such as who would own the data? If we are screening a population for diseases and risks would the government, employers and insurers have access as genetic discrimination could be an issue in the future.

‘I did a lot of research online using journals but I also met with GPs as part of my primary research. It was a chance to investigate something that is relevant because I want to go into medicine and a lot of people don’t know about these changes that are happening behind the scenes.’

Victor Ho studied the ebola virus and the treatments that have been developed to combat it. He said: ‘The subject was topical and related to medicine, which is the career path I want to go into. Ebola takes advantage of the communal nature of humans and also the fact that it is quite virulent and people didn’t bury bodies straight away in the initial stages which allowed it to spread quite quickly. Ebola is a virus that affects the lymphatic system and it targets the liver, spleen and adrenal glands. That leads to defects in how your blood clots which leads to profuse bleeding.

'Around 10,000 died in the latest outbreak. It is endemic to the region and made its way into the human population is through contaminated bush meat. The most surprising thing is how small the ebola virus is. You imagine it is quite complicated to cause all of this massive outbreak when in fact it is quite small, simple and very efficient.’

Tho-Quang Nguyen was studying the process of angiogenesis, the process of blood vessel formation, and how that relates to the development of cancer. He said: ‘Groups of cells can mutate and become cancerous. Mainly they grow to 0.5mm cubed. From there they can’t grow any further because they haven’t got blood supply so they release certain factors that cause blood vessels to grow towards them which feed the cancer allowing it to grow. In the UK there are specific drugs such as statins and aspirin that can reduce the likelihood of blood vessels forming plus there are other factors that help, such as dietary changes. By the age of 70 most of us will have tumours in our lymphatic system which we won’t know about and if men eat three to five portions of cooked tomatoes every week over 20 years they will reduce their chances of developing prostate cancer by 30% so simple dietary changes can make a difference.

'We tend to think that diet is producing cancer so think what can we remove from our diet to reduce the chances of developing cancer? Instead I am researching what can we add to diet to prevent the likelihood of cancer so it is just a different perspective. I presented to a group of my peers and also a group of Year 7s so the presentation takes a very niche scientific subject and explains it to a group of non-scientists in an understandable way.’

Gautham Kumar studied how 3D printing is changing medicine. He said: ‘I structured my report around different case studies and future applications. I was looking into the range as well as the potential impact that each of those applications could have. 3D printing is quite good at producing unique objects like bone implants, prosthetic legs and prosthetic dental fittings. 3D printing can produce unique and complicated objects cheaply. Right now it has been used to make prostheses for children and there can be personalised prosthetics as well, ones that match their personalities and lifestyles.

‘Despite the fact that these things are going on they are not going on in a large scale. The science is very young and hasn’t proven itself yet. Heart valves have been printed as well as simple shapes such as splints to open blood vessels and windpipes. As these are not living tissues they are quite easy to fabricate. One of the frontiers is being able to print living tissue which will be much more complicated. The technology is creating a huge buzz right now so people are very willing to talk about it, but to find articles that have the information that I need and the reliability that I can trust is more difficult.

'As part of my science courses I have the opportunity to write formally and analytically but rarely have the chance to utilise a more informal writing style. As the project and presentation were targeted at a non-science audience it was an opportunity to use those skills.’

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