Year 12 Subject Masterclasses in Cambridge
Subject-specific sample lectures are available. Credit: Horia Varlan
Here is a date for your diaries: In the week beginning 5 January, booking will open for some subject masterclasses organised by the central Cambridge Admissions Office. These masterclasses will take place on Saturdays in February 2015 and are for students in Year 12 (the penultimate year of school).
The subjects are:
- Genetics and Biochemistry
- Modern and Medieval Languages
- Philosophy and Theology
...and if the course you want to study is not in that list, don't worry because further masterclasses will be announced later in 2015.
For more detail, please read the information about Subject Masterclasses on the Cambridge Admissions website. When booking opens, the link will be available in the table on that page.
Going deeper into Mathematics
If you like (or dislike!) mathematics, what is it about the subject that makes you feel this way? What does studying mathematics at unviersity level involve, and how can you work out if you will enjoy it?
We advise students who are curious about maths (and subjects related to maths) to read the following explanation of rich mathematics:
If the kind of maths that makes you think and encourages you to go deeper inside the subject appeals to you, make sure you explore the NRICH Mathematics website:
- Stage 5 material is for students in the last two years of school (normally aged 16-18).
- Stage 4 material is for students in Year 10 and Year 11 (normally aged 14-16)
- If you have a particular interest, you may also find the curriculum content section helpful
- Or have a go at some of the live problems and see if you can get your solution published!
Year 12 Science / Medicine Essay Competition
- How has astronomy benefited society?
- Suppose you could create a new checmical element. What physical and chemical properties would you ascribe to it, and what uses could this element be put to?
- If you could take one item, which must fit in your pocket, back to the year 1800 with the goal of advancing science or medicine, what would it be and what would you do with it?
- Is it more important to save tropical forests or the world's oceans? Why?
- How far is it to the moon?
- "Free health care at the point of delivery trivialises the service." Discuss.
These are the questions that Peterhouse College is asking Year 12 students to think about for this year's Kelvin Science Prize. If you are interested in researching and writing one of these essays, please read the information carefully on the Peterhouse College website (see especially the Kelvin Science Prize pdf here, which contains full details of the questions and how to enter). The deadline is 20 March 2015.
Can science make a cyclist faster?
Prof Tony Purnell will be giving the next lecture in the Cambridge Physics Lecture Series for Year 12 and Year 13 students at 6pm on Tuesday 2 December.
Please see the details and directions.
The lecture will provide an overview of how science and engineering contribute to the raw speed of all Olympic cycling disciplines.
No need to book - just turn up!
What is the Earth made of? What processes shape and change it? What's happened to it in the past 4.5 billion years, and how do we know? What will happen to the Earth's climate in the future? The Cambridge Department of Earth Sciences has released a very useful introductory film:
If you'd like to find out more about physical and biological aspects of the Earth, here are two books that provide a good way into the subject:
Earth Sciences is just one of the many options available in the Cambridge Natural Sciences course, and no previous knowledge in geology or geography is required. You can combine it with your interests in other sciences, and you can specialise in it if you later choose to. Do explore the Department of Earth Sciences website for more detail.
Science Week at the University of York
The University of York is offering science events as part of Science Week (16-22 November).
The events are open to all, so do go along to a talk if you live in or near York:
Excellence Hub for Yorkshire and Humberside
University taster events show you what studying a subject in depth at university-level would be like. Credit: John Robinson
The Excellence Hub for Yorkshire and Humberside is an exciting collaboration between the universities of Hull, Leeds, Sheffield and York to provide enrichment events through the year for students who have been identified as high achieving by their schools or colleges.
Look at the list of upcoming Subject Taster Events.
The events are open to students across the UK. You can apply to attend the events as an individual, or one of your teachers can apply for a group from your school to attend. Priority for places is given to students who meet one of the criteria below, then the remaining places are given to students who do not meet the criteria. Some events are for Year 12 students, others are for younger students.
- eligible to receive free school meals.
- no history of higher education (studying at university level) in your immediate family (including any siblings).
- living in local authority care.
Do keep an eye on this project. Further events will be advertised on the Excellence Hub website in due course.
Year 12 STEP Correspondence Project
Cambridge (funded by the Department for Education) is offering a pilot correspondence course to Year 12 prospective mathematicians from UK state schools. This course is designed for students who would not normally receive much support for STEP Mathematics exams in Year 13.
In order to be eligible to take part, you must be:
- studying at a state-maintained school or academy in the UK
- taking, or about to take, Further Mathematics at A-level (or equivalent).
Please see the STEP Correspondence Project webpage for full details and the application forms.
The deadline for applications is Monday 1st December 2014
Both the student application form and the teacher support statement must be submitted by this date.
Preparing for interviews
We recommend that you explore topics that interest you further (there are a lot of ways to do this).
We interview most (but not all) students who apply for a place at Cambridge. The interviews are with subject specialists who ask you academic questions to explore your potential for the course you have applied for.
How do you prepare for a Cambridge interview? Here are some tips:
Long-term preparation (before you apply)
- If you enjoy learning, the good news is that you shouldn't need to change anything significant to prepare for interviews at Cambridge. The most important thing you can do is to develop your academic interests (which you're likely to find that you've already been doing!)
- Find a Cambridge course that genuinely interests you so that you have natural curiosity and enjoy developing your skills and finding out more.
- Look at the resources section on the relevant subject page for specific suggestions (e.g. Engineering), but also feel free to follow your own interests or use other resources and books that you find helpful.
- Understand that Cambridge interviewers will be interested in your academic interests and how you think and work, not only what you know. The interviews are academic interviews, designed to test this. This film shows what Cambridge interviews are about.
Short-term preparation (after you have applied)
- See this advice and our interview guidelines.
- Watch Film 1 and Film 2 to get a sense of what will happen if you are invited for interview.
- Carry on developing your academic interests. Use the resources section on the relevant subject page if you are looking for suggestions.
- Don't neglect your normal school work - if you are currently at school, we know how busy you are, and you can develop your interests within your school curriculum by putting your best into your homework assignments. Remember that most of your interview preparation has already been done at this stage.
- Don't worry excessively about the interview itself. Know that the interviews are not a test of how good you are at being interviewed (we're not looking for polish or perfection). They are about your subject(s), so the only way you can improve your chances is to carry on focusing on your academic work and interests.
- Try to trust your interviewers if you can! They are all teachers and they want you to achieve. They will know how to ask further questions to tease what they need out of you, and they know that interviewees are nervous so they are looking for raw ability and academic commitment, not perfection.
Cambridge Subject Films
Are you exploring the courses available at Cambridge? One way to get a quick overview is to look at some of the subject films.
The films are only short, but they explain the structure and opportunities in each course, show you some of the faculty facilities, and have current students giving their views and reasons for choosing each subject, tips for applying from the lecturers, and information about what students go on to do when they graduate.
You may also find the advice about choosing a subject useful, and there are lists of transferable skills for most courses (or options within courses). These lists set out the advantages that each subject gives you for your future career.
The most important question to ask yourself, is what would you enjoy studying in depth?
Competition: Engineering in Sport
Have you thought carefully about the role of Engineering in sports that you enjoy?
EngineerGirl (a US National Academy of Engineering website) is running a competition asking you to describe the technology used in a sport of your choice. The competition is open to male and female school students both in the US / Canada and beyond.
You may also enjoy reading the rest of the EngineerGirl website.
Hot air balloon problem
A hot air balloon of mass 350 kg is carrying 5 people each of mass 70kg. The total volume of the baloon is 2800m3.
The balloon flies horizontally in dry air 1km above sea level. The atmopheric pressure at this altitude is 89.9kPa and the surrounding temperature is 9ºC. Given that the molar mass of dry air is 28.97g/mol, work out the temperature of the heated air inside the balloon. (You can take gas constant R=8.31J/mol K and you may assume that air behaves as an ideal gas).
General and problem-specific hints are available.
This is one of the problems on I-want-to-study-engineering.org, a resource from Cambridge University Engineering Department with more than 200 problems to help you to practice problem solving skills relevant to Engineering. The website also provides general advice such as how to get onto a good Engineering course (whether at Cambridge or elsewhere).
Where is the Art in Science?
Do you have a love and flair for both the arts and the sciences? You're not alone!
The Royal Society of Chemistry's annual Bill Bryson Prize challenges students to think about science creatively. The 2014 competition asked 'where is the art in science?' Brynn Brunstromm found many connections in his winning video entry.
On Wednesday 5 November, the Departments of Chemistry and Fine Art at the University of Reading are running a workshop for Year 9 students to explore the intrinsic links between art and science. Teachers can contact the Chemistry Teachers' Centre to find out more.
Physics. You work it out.
The Rutherford Physics Partnership runs an online platform for prospective Physicists, Engineers, and Mathematicians called Isaac Physics. It will help you to bridge the gap between your A Level and undergraduate studies by working through problems online.
Our own Chapel at King's is a fascinating mix of religion, politics, history, art and architecture.
Have you ever thought about the relationship between religion and other subjects that you might study?
- History: Consider the impact of religious change on a society prior to 1900;
- Literature: Reflect on whether literary criticism requires a knowledge of sacred texts;
- Philosophy: Comment on the relationship between mortality and religion;
- Politics: Explore the idea of secularism and national politics;
- Science: Address the relationship between religion and a topic from the natural sciences;
- Sociology: Consider how an awareness of religion helps understandings of multiculturalism.
Cambridge Divinity Faculty encourages sixth formers to research and think about one of the topics above in a team of up to four 16-19 year olds. The challenge is to produce a film lasting no more than five minutes in response to your chosen topic. This should be academic in content, but the film could take any form: debates, documentaries or responses with artistic elements are all welcome.
If you are interested, do read the further details on the Divinity Faculty website. The deadline is Friday 14 November 2014.
Celebrate Science with Durham University, 28 - 30 October
The Celebrate Science marquee will again be pitched on Durham Palace Green (seen here with the University Library in the background). Image credit: Lawrence OP
Durham University's fifth annual Celebrate Science festival will take place this half-term from Tuesday 28 to Thursday 30 October:
View the full programme of events.
Cambridge Physics Lectures
The Cambridge Physics department runs a series of lectures through the year for Year 12 and Year 13 students. These are free to attend and you can just turn up (no need to book).
The first lecture this year is on Tues 14 October 2014, when Dr Colin Wright will speak on the Physics of Juggling. For further information about this and future lectures, please see the details on the department website:
If you live within range of a University, why not go on their website to see if there are any public lectures or lectures for sixth formers that might be interesting?
If you're aged 14-18 and you enjoy Chemistry, why not join the Royal Society of Chemistry's Chemnet? It offers free support and advice for all Chemistry students including:
The link to join Chemnet is here.
Freshers' reading groups
There's a great atmosphere in College as we help the new students to settle in.
Amongst the many activities that take place in Freshers' Week to settle new students into the College community, there are discussion groups in which tutors and students across all subjects meet to discuss a book that everybody has read in advance. This year's book is:
Monbiot is a journalist and activist who read Zoology at University. He presents his book as a polemic for "positive environmentalism". The book consists of a series of essays designed to promote the cultural and economic change that will be necessary to precede any ecological shift. On some level Feral is a radical book with a radical argument, however the question for the King's freshers is how substantial, how convincing is Monbiot's argument and his evidence, and how much of it is the ideological enchantment of a liberal public intellectual?
If you fancy reading this book for yourself, you may be interested to think about how Monbiot establishes the veracity of his claims. How scientific is his thesis of "rewilding"? Does the book survive the lengthy anecdotal descriptions of his natural encounters, enchanting though they are? And is it telling that Monbiot is male, enjoys risky outdoor activity and has his moment of epiphany when he slings a dead deer over his shoulders and carries it home? Do you think that he would have a different environmentalism if he weren't so enamored by the wild in him? Or should we be cautious about any dismissal of his honesty? He discusses the effects of logging and mining on Yanomami lands at some length (and spent a fair amount of his own time experiencing it) - it is fair to say that his "rewilding" is borne of some knowledge of different cultural ecologies? Finally, do you think that we should be encouraged by this book, or discouraged?
Year 12 Shadowing Scheme 2015
Find out for yourself what living and studying at Cambridge is really like
If you are in Year 12 at a UK school and nobody from your family has studied at university / not many from your school have got places at Oxford and Cambridge, you might like to find out more by applying for a place on the CUSU Shadowing Scheme.
If you get a place, you would be invited to spend a few days in Cambridge, living in one of the Colleges and "shadowing" a current student studying the subject that you are interested in, that is, going to lectures, supervisions, social activities etc with them. It's a really good way to get a taste of what studying here is really like so do read the details if you think that you might be eligible to apply.
Choosing school subjects
For Cambridge Economics, Maths is required and Further Maths is very helpful where available.
If you have just started Year 11 (15-16 year olds), you will soon need to start thinking about which subjects you will take next year.
If you would like to study at a selective university such as Cambridge or another university in the Russell Group, it is especially important to make sure that you choose subjects that will give you good preparation for courses that you may want to apply for. You may already have a favourite subject that you can research, but don't worry if you don't know yet - the advice about making well-informed choices will help to put you in the best position for when you choose a university course later on.
As well as the subjects you already do at school, it is worth remembering that there are a lot more courses available that you start new at university - the perfect course for you may be something you've not thought of yet!!
To help you with this process:
Posted: 10 September 2014
Language and spatial conceptions of time
In most languages time is talked about in spatial terms, with the future presented as being 'in front' of the person experiencing it. For example, in English we speak about 'looking forward' to doing something.
A recent study in Psychology looked at the conceptualisation of time in Moroccan speakers of Arabic. Although in linguistic terms, the future is 'ahead' in Arabic just as it is in English, Juanma de la Fuente and colleagues found that Moroccan Arabic speakers went against this convention in their hand gestures, with implications for how we understand space-time mappings. (1)
Juanma de la Fuente and colleagues also mention Aymara, a language from the Andean region of western Bolivia. In Aymara, the relation between time and space does not seem to work in the same way. To quote a different article:
In Aymara, the basic word for FRONT (nayra, "eye/front/sight") is also a basic meaning PAST, and the basic word for BACK (qhipa, "back/behind") is a basic expression for FUTURE meaning. [...] Is it in fact an instance of the same mappings as we have seen in other languages, "reversed" in some way, or are there quite different metaphoric mappings involved? How would we know? (2)
How do you think that the differences between English and Aymara would be of interest to researchers in Linguistics and Psychology? Can you think of any research questions or hypotheses? How would you design an experiment to test your ideas?
You may be interested to look at:
(1) This British Psychology research digest post about the research by Juanma de la Fuente and colleagues.
(2) This difficult but interesting article about Aymara: Rafael Nunez and Eve Sweetser, 'With the Future Behind Them: Convergent Evidence from Aymara Language and Gesture in the Crosslinguistic Comparison of Spatial Construsals of Time' in Cognitive Science 30 (2006), pp1-49
If you would like to keep yourself informed about research topics in Psychology, do keep an eye on the British Psychological Society Research Digest Blog.
The Year In Industry Scheme
The Year In Industry Scheme places talented students in degree-relevant, paid work placements in the UK during a gap year between school and a university degree in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.
This opportunity would allow you to gain relevant work experience in your intended field, add new skills and knowledge to your CV, and deepen your understanding for your chosen degree subject. The Year in Industry Scheme applies to companies on your behalf, helps to coordinate any interviews, and supports you during the placement. Additional Maths courses are available through the Year In Industry to ensure that you keep your maths skills sharp while away from the academic environment.
Information for all students interested in taking a gap year is on our gap year page.
How Chemistry Changed the First World War (Cambridge, 11 September)
If you are interested in History and/or Chemistry and live close to Cambridge, you might be interested to attend Michael Freemantle's public lecture on how “The Great War” was a Chemists’ War.
The lecture will discuss how Chemistry underpinned military strategy and determined the shape, duration and outcome of the First World War. Chemistry was not only a destructive instrument of war but also protected troops, and healed the sick and wounded. From bullets to bombs, poison gases to anaesthetics, khaki to cordite, Chemistry played a pivotal role in the trenches, in the casualty clearing stations and military hospitals, in the tunnelling operations in the air, and at sea.
Michael Freemantle is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. He is the author of Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! How Chemistry Changed the First World War (History Press, 2014).
- 7pm on 11 September 2014
- Pfizer Lecture Theatre, Department of Chemistry, Lensfield Road, Cambridge (map)
- Please see this website for further details.
If you live too far away to visit Cambridge
Different people need different facilities. This is one of the treadmills in the King's Vaults gym.
It is not unusual to make a successful application without ever having set foot in Cambridge. Don't worry if it is not practical for you to visit as there is no requirement to do so.
Since we welcome applicants who live a long way from Cambridge, we do our best to ensure that all the infomation that you need to make a strong application is on our website (see the relevant subject page and how to apply in particular), as well as virtual tours and the life and facilities sections so that you can get a sense of King's as a place:
We also have a dedicated page for if you don't feel very well supported for your application, and the student perspectives are particularly useful.
Cambridge College Open Days for Year 13
The Porters' Lodge, just inside the entrance of King's on King's Parade
If you are planning to apply to Cambridge this October and would like to attend a College Open Day, do see this page for the events available.
Here at King's, we welcome bookings for our open afternoon on Tuesday 16 September - see our open days page for details and the form.
If you are visiting other Colleges and would like to see King's on the same day, do introduce yourself at the porters' lodge and say that you will be applying to Cambridge. The porters will be happy to let you walk around the public areas, and you might find our self-guided tour useful so that you know what you are looking at. NB if there is a 'College Closed' sign at the front gate, please don't be put off as this just means that tourists cannot enter.
If you are visiting Cambridge on your own, you might also enjoy the Following in the Footsteps audio tour.
Cambridge Science Centre: Extreme Engineering
If you are visiting Cambridge, do look up the Public Extreme Engineering exhibition and activities at the Cambridge Science Centre (18 Jesus Lane, CB5 8BQ). This runs until March 2015.
As well as the exhibitions, there will be lots of opportunities to meet research engineers in Cambridge and get a feel for the projects that they are working on. For details, please see the Extreme Engineering website and twitter feed.
- 24 August - Robogals (Engineers from Cambridge University) will be running a workshop about programming and robotics using Lego
- 29 August - Find out more about the ingenious structures created by animals with the Museum of Zoology
Cambridge Centre for Mathematical Sciences
Students who apply to Cambridge for Mathematics or for Computer Science with the 50% Maths option are normally asked to sit STEP Mathematics exams.
Don't be discouraged if STEP material looks very difficult when you first look at it - the style is very different from A level, IB etc. STEP exams normally require plenty of preparation and practice in order to do well, and there are lots of online resources to help you with this. Your work on STEP will help you a lot with the transition to the kinds of mathematical problem-solving you will meet at Cambridge. Once you get into it, we hope that you will enjoy working on the material!
Here are some resources to help you with your work on STEP:
Thames Tideway Tunnel
London City Airport and the Thames. Credit: pencefn
According to King’s Engineer Mark Ainslie, ‘engineers are people who apply Maths and Physics to solve problems … in a creative way.’
So try applying your own Maths and Physics to a real life engineering problem: how to tackle the problem of overflows from London's Victorian sewers. Designed for up to 4 million people 150 years ago, the sewers are not big enough to serve 8 million Londoners today, causing 55 million tonnes of raw sewage to wash into the tidal Thames every year.
Thames Water's proposed solution is the Thames Tideway Tunnel, running for 25 kilometres, at a depth of up to 65 metres below the river. Tunnelworks is an online resource put together by Thames Water, in which you are asked to apply your Mathematics and Physics to the project.
Taking place for the first time throughout September 2014, Totally Thames is an exciting new, month-long celebration of the river across its 42 London miles:
CREST Awards: for project work in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
The British Science Association supports, assesses, and awards students undertaking project work in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. You can register and work towards one of their CREST Awards either through your school / college or independently. You could build a pin-hold camera, design a bespoke fitness regime and diet for an athlete, or investigate the effect of natural and chemical additives in bread.
Look at the British Science Association website to find:
Good luck and enjoy!
Women in Engineering
According to the Institute of Engineering and Technology's latest skills report
"the number of women in engineering remains very low at 6%, which has not significantly changed in all the years this survey has been carried out."
Why are there so few female engineers? Zoe Conway reported from the Crossrail 2 project on why engineering remains a male-dominated industry for Radio 4's Today programme this morning.
The WISE Campaign (Women into Science and Engineering) offers lots of online resources to young women thinking about studying and pursuing a career in Engineering, including:
The Women's Engineering Society was founded in 1919 by women engineers in the First World World War who wished to continue their work in peacetime. They support prospective women engineers in gaining the Advanced Leaders Award for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).
Here in Cambridge, the Department of Engineering holds an Athena SWAN Bronze Award, in recognition of its commitment to promoting and supporting the careers of women in engineering. Ann Dowling, Head of the Department, offers the following advice to young women engineers:
- try always to respond positively to opportunites that come your way;
- don't wait for the 'perfect time' before applying for things - sometimes you just have to have a go;
- find a field of resarch that really interests you and has scope to expand in the future.
Mathematical ways to spend your summer
Here are some suggestions (suitable for students at all stages in maths) from Steve Hewson on the NRICH Mathematics website:
NB the 'stages' mentioned on the NRICH website correspond to UK Key stages. As a guide:
- Stage 3 uses maths you would normally meet before the age of 14
- Stage 4 uses maths you would normally meet before the age of 16
- Stage 5 uses maths you would normally meet post 16.
One of the things that interviewers look for is genuine interest. Image credit: THX0477
We interview most people who apply to Cambridge (more than 80%). It is in interviews that subject specialists are able to work with you directly, see how you think and work, and really explore your academic potential for the course that you've applied for.
We hope that you will find the following new Cambridge University film useful, and we particularly hope that it will put any summer work that you are doing to develop your interests into context!
Centre for Computing History
A Centre for Computing History opened in Cambridge earlier this year, which offers a fascinating exploration of the historical, social and cultural impact of developments in personal computing. It is open to visit Wed - Saturday each week, and there are also lots of workshops and talks over the summer that may be of interest. See full details on the website.
Online resources include:
For information about the history of computing at Cambridge, you may be interested in:
Navigation at sea in the eighteenth century
Navigation at sea was a real problem in the eighteenth century. Although ships could work out their latitude from the position of the sun, it was difficult to know how far east or west they were. In 1714 a Longitude Act was passed, offering rewards of up to £20,000 for anyone who could solve the problem of finding longitude at sea.
The National Maritime Museum and Cambridge University have put the archives relating to this period of exploration and invention online - do watch the film and explore the website. If you live near enough to visit Greenwich, you may enjoy one of the Longitude Season events.
The Rise, Rise, and Rise of Chemical Engineering
Everyday Plastics. Art Exhibition in Christchurch Botanical Gardens. Credit: Geof Wilson
The Royal Academy of Engineering estimates that the UK needs 100,000 graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) simply to sustain its existing industries. So Geoff Maitland, President of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), is right to celebrate the rise in the numbers of applications for Engineering in general, and Chemical Engineering in particular.
Are you thinking of studying Engineering at university? Why not Chemical Engineering? IChemE explains:
Chemical engineering is all about changing raw materials into useful products you use everyday in a safe and cost effective way. For example petrol, plastics and synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon, all come from oil. Chemical engineers understand how to alter the chemical, biochemical or physical state of a substance, to create everything from face creams to fuels.
The Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi is a flexible low-cost computer. It is great for experimenting with programming and electronics.
The Raspberry Pi website includes an introduction, quick start guide, software downloads and lots of other information to help you get started on all kinds of projects.
There are three models:
- Model A (15 British pounds / 25 US dollars)
- Model B (22 British pounds / 35 US dollars)
- Model B+ (22 British pounds / 35 US dollars)
There are lots of resources available online so if you have a particular interest, do search for it. Here are a few useful sites:
Summer Reading (and Writing)
As you break up for the vacation, you may be resolving to read through the pile of books that has built up on your bedside table during a busy academic year. But how do you make your summer reading count? As the University of Cambridge advises its students:
Reading for a degree requires different reading skills to reading for pleasure. Developing understanding through reading needs to be an active process, whereby you engage with the text, question and develop your ideas in response to it.
Listen to Hanna Weibye (one of the King's Fellows in History) making a similar point, when she recommends that you read as widely and as critically as possible.
The University of Southampton, the University of Manchester, and the Open University all offer useful advice on how to read in an engaged way.
One way to read effectively is to... write! Once you've read a text, why not write and share a review of it? The Wellcome Trust blog offers advice on how to write a news story from a scientific paper. The Guardian's Blogging Students advise on how to blog.
The Life Scientific
In the Life Scientific on Radio 4, Professor Jim Al-Khalili talks to leading scientists about their life and work, finding out what inspires and motivates them. It is fascinating to hear how their academic interests were sparked and developed as they studied and how this led them to forge a career in science.
This morning's programme featured Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, Britain's largest medical research funding charity. Farrar reflected on how his undergraduate studies in Medicine at University College London took him away from medical practice and into clinical research:
The degree opened my eyes to the fact that you could dream a little bit beyond facts and you could ask questions and you could design things to try and answer them.
As a result of his experience as a junior doctor treating patients infected with HIV in the early 1980s, Farrar was inspired to take a PhD in immunology. For sixteen years he was Director of Oxford University's Clinical Research Unit in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where he researched the outbreak of SARS and avian influenza in the region.
If you wish to pursue a career in clinical research, like Farrar, there is the possibility of combining your clinical studies with a PhD. You can read about the MB/PhD programme at Cambridge here.
The Wellcome Trust works to make inspiring, high-quality science education available to all young people. It publishes the Big Picture, an online journal exploring the implications of cutting-edge science. Its June issue includes a feature on citizen science and makes suggestions of how to get involved in scientific research yourself over the summer vacation.
BODY WORLDS Vital - the exhibition of real human bodies (Newcastle, 17 May - 2 November)
The Life Science Centre in Newcastle. Credit: Samuel Mann
If you are interested in anatomy, physiology and health, there's a fascinating exhibition of real human bodies, specimens, organs and body slices at the Life Science Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne. The exhibits have been preserved through Plastination (which you can learn more about at the exhibition).
If you can get to Newcastle, it's easy to visit as the Life Science Centre is very close to Newcastle train station. You do have to pay for tickets (see ticket prices).
Wrexham Science Festival (17 - 25 July, North Wales)
St Giles Church, Wrexham.
Image credit: Alan Myers
Do check the list of public events at the Wrexham Science Festival in North Wales on 17-25 July, and book your tickets if you live close enough!
- Climate Change: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but… what the world’s top climate scientists agree upon
- Black Holes — What are they and why are they so weird?
- Heavy Metal Marine Biology - A Rocking Guide to the Seas
- How well do renewable energy technologies pay back the carbon and energy that is initially invested in them?
Engineering - how to prepare for an application
A bulk superconductor over a magnet
King's Electrical Engineer, Mark Ainslie, is looking at how superconductors can make electric motors work better, and is part of a team that has just broken the world record for the strongest trapped magnetic field in a bulk high-temperature superconductor:
Listen to Mark Ainslie giving advice about how to prepare for your application to study Engineering, and what to expect in your interviews.
What makes a good question in mathematics?
What sorts of questions do you enjoy working on in maths and physics? Read Marianne Freiberger's article on mathematical questions in +plus Magazine.
Here are some questions that +plus Magazine has explored:
...and here are some puzzle questions (and links to solutions):
James Dyson Foundation Challenge: Geodesic Domes
Do you know what a geodesic dome is? It is a structure named in 1949 by an American Engineer called Richard Burkminster Fuller. Amongst the interesting features of geodesic domes is their structural strength and that they are relatively easy to construct.
To build your own geodesic dome out of jelly sweets and cocktail sticks and explore the structure, see this challenge designed by Neil, an electronics engineer at Dyson. Can you describe in as much detail as possible why the geodesic dome is a strong structure?
Precision: the Measure of All Things
Big Ben: accurate to one second an hour, but today we can build clocks that loose one second in 138 million years. Credit: Taz Wake
There was an interesting TV documentary last night telling the history of the science of measurement.
Throughout our history, developments in our ability to measure the world around us have changed our lives. In the documentary, Prof. Marcus du Sautoy explores how seconds and metres came to be as two of the most fundamental units of measure, how distance and time are linked, and the quest for ever greater precision in science.
Catch it on BBC iplayer:
Further documentaries in the same series will be on in the next couple of weeks:
Medicine essay competition (Year 12)
'I have three supervisions every two weeks, requiring me to write an essay for each.' Shedeh (Medicine).
Photo credit: rhodesj
Are you interested in studying Medicine? As well as needing a strong grounding in your sciences/maths subjects (which is likely to need most of your focus), it's worth remembering that the course requires you to write regular short essays for supervisions. Robinson College is holding an essay competition for prospective Medicine students. The deadline for entries is 1 August 2014, and you can choose between three essay titles.
The 2014 Cambridge Open Days Programme is published!
The large Cambridge Open Days are on Thurs 3 and Fri 4 July. This event is for students who are considering an application in September/October 2014.
Do explore the 2014 Cambridge Open Days programme for details of course presentations and sample lectures in your subject, College opening times and locations. If you are interested in visiting a particular College, their website will normally have more detail. At King's, we're open from 9 until 5.30pm as part of the Cambridge Open Days, and we invite you to join tours of the College, subject meetings (students only for those) and chat with current students and admissions staff. See the details for Thurs 3 July and for Fri 4 July.
Booking is required. Although there are no general places left for the Cambridge Open Days, there are still plenty of places available for students who book to attend a College Open Day (you will also be able to attend Cambridge Open Day events in the afternoon) or a North East Welcome Event (please email us for details if you're from the North East). Please see the information about how to attend the Cambridge Open Days now that registration has closed.
We hope to see you there! If you can't attend, don't worry though, as the information that you need to make a successful application is also available online, and you are welcome to email us with any questions.
Summer Science Exhibition in London (1-6 July)
The Royal Society has an annual display of the most exciting cutting-edge science and technology in the UK, including everything from artifical intelligence and car crash investigation to tropical storms, ultrasonic waves, and immune-bacterial interactions
Do make a note if you live close enough to visit. The dates are 1-6 July this year, and the exhibition will take place at 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG (near Charring Cross tube station).
See the exhibition website, which includes details of the events and exhibits.
'Eugene' Passes the Turing Test
Sixty-five years ago, King's mathematician and pioneer computer scientist Alan Turing famously asked 'Can Machines Think?' To answer his own question, he conceived a test in which questions would be put to both a human and a machine, in an attempt to distinguish one from another. On Saturday, the Turing Test was passed for the very first time by supercomputer 'Eugene Goostman,' which convinced some of the judges that it was a thirteen year-old boy from Odessa, Ukraine.
- Is 'Eugene' really thinking?
- What are the limits to artificial intelligence?
Find out more about the successful Turing Test 2014, organised by the University of Reading and hosted by the Royal Society.
Talk to 'Eugene' yourself (you may have difficulty accessing this site due to the extent of public interest at the moment!)
Read more about the sixty-five year history of the Turing Test in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Treating MS - science and clinical trials
When a patient has MS (Multiple Sclerosis), the immune system begins to attack the body's own healthy nerve cells. The disease strips away their protective sheath, and prevents electrical signals from moving effectively between the brain and the body.
Researchers at Cambridge have been working on a treatment for MS for some time, and the drug that they have developed was recently approved for use in people with MS. The following film explains the science and clinical trials behind this:
Problem-solving website for Engineering
Connel Bridge in Scotland
When you're doing exercises in maths and physics, how much do you feel like you're relying on previous examples that you have memorised, and how much time do you spend problem solving, or working on a kind of question that requires more thought?
Cambridge University Engineering Department has a website designed for developing and practicing problem solving in many contexts - do explore this resource:
Subject Conferences at the University of York
Booking is open for Year 12 subject conferences at the University of York, offering an insight into degree-level study in specific subjects.
- 27 June - Philosophy Conference
- 11 July - Chemistry Conference
See the York University website for details and booking.