Meeting with Dr Dannhauser definitely provided students with much interesting information about brain, attention and concentration. I found The Chimp Paradox particularly interesting. This is that we have a primitive system in the brain that we do not control; it is impulsive and drives survival instincts. An explanation that computer games are highly addictive because they stimulate instincts was especially noteworthy as it was the real-life application of scientific knowledge and theories. I think this William’s Project guest was particularly inspiring as he is a clinical psychiatrist, English is not his first language and he showed us how much effort he put to achieve his goals.
On Tuesday the 6th of June, Mr Chaudhary, one of Chigwell’s maths teachers, gave a talk on “God – the ultimate reality”. First, he took measurements of a student in “good proportion” and pointed out similarities. Then he started with the human embryo and how the embryo develops, then showed a sentence in the Quran that also explains the human embryo and how accurate it was. He showed us another quote in the Quran which tells us that two seas never meet, and then showed us a video of two seas that don’t mix. He then shows some more believable facts that God exists. Finally Mr Chaudhary was asked questions with the hope of proving him wrong, but he stood his ground and answered them in detail.
On Tuesday the 22nd of September the Williams Project was visited by Keith Snow. He gave a very interesting talk about the development and influences behind Darwin’s theory of evolution, showing us how Charles Darwin himself was not the sole mind behind the theory of evolution. Darwin’s ideas both evolved over time and much was taken from many other people before him. Keith Snow discussed how Darwin took many of his ideas from his lesser-known grandfather Erasmus Darwin, as well as Thomas Malthus, whose ideas also inspired Darwin. Erasmus theorised that all life came from a common ancestor that branched off into all the species that we see today. Even without any time for questions in the library at the end it was a very enjoyed and interesting talk, and I’m sure that Keith Snow would be welcome back in the future.
Cordelia Griffith (Howard Essay winner) and Katie Marshall (Mitchell) gave excellent presentations on their essays to a packed library, and dealt with some probing questions with cool skill. Cordelia spoke on “Does Dicey’s conception of the “rule of law” apply in a dictatorship?”, calmly and lucidly demonstrating how the Nazis, in their attempts to ensure that everything they did was technically ‘legal’, nevertheless broke some of Dicey’s rules about how a decent legal system would operate. Katie (“How close is a cure for Parkinson’s Disease?”) explained clearly and with passion some complex science, and focused on how stem cell research might ‘in a generation’ at least bring about clinical trials of the long-awaited cure to this debilitating illness.
The presentations were introduced by representatives of the judging panels, Graham Dixon and David Gower, who stressed the range and quality of this year’s entries, and the importance of letting one’s academic interests develop in ways not overly restricted by thoughts of ‘career’: the career will follow the interests.
Later the annual dinner was held, where we were addressed by Jessica Beagley (OC and former Mitchell winner). She reinforced the point made by the judges, explaining how her career had (already) taken many surprising twists and turns, from scientific research to political lobbying, yet with the common thread of her interest in physiology. It was a perfect way to end the evening.
An old friend of the Williams Project, Professor Alan Dronsfield from the University of Derby, gave us two separate talks on medical history. The first, ‘To Sleep, Perchance to Dream – the early chemical history of anaesthesia’, set out the nightmare world of surgery before anaesthetics, and carefully took us through the, er, painfully slow development of methods of pain-relief, from nitrous oxide and opium to chloroform.
The second, ‘Marie Curie, the discovery of radium and its early use in medical therapy’, outlined the discovery of radiation, and the lives and research of Poland-born Marie Curie and her husband Pierre, and then explained the medical uses to which radium has been put, from the Finsen Lamp, used to clear skin lesions caused by lupus, to methods of applying radium to tumours deep in the body and the flourishing of radium hospitals across Europe. Alan then, to much wincing and a little giggling, showed us pictures of pseudo-medical products, from condoms to chocolate, claiming to harness the ‘energy’ of radium for general and specific health benefits, all of them spurious, and some of them harmful. Radioactive thermal underwear, drinks coasters and cigarette holders were some of the other highlights.
Throughout Alan, for a long time now Chair of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Historical Group, held his audience fully engaged, and inspired some excellent questions. We hope to see him again.
Our Head of Maths, Mr Chaudhary, gave us a vastly wide-ranging and heartfelt exposition of the centrality of the ratio φ (“phi”) in the universe and the human body, and what that centrality meant.
He showed that the ratio (see above, equivalent to 1:1.618…, which is, uniquely, the same as 0.618…:1) lies behind the Fibonacci sequence, which we see in so many growth patterns in animals and plants, as well as in the relationship between a myriad of measurements of the human body. It’s also one of the commonest principles in the way we perceive beauty: painters place horizons at it.
Mr Chaudhary argued that the odds of this one ratio being at the centre of so much were virtually nil, and so it is convincing evidence of divine design behind creation. He showed us verses from the Quran which point out that God has designed the universe in a way whereby we can detect, even deduce, his hand.
Universal Laws and the Golden Ratio
15 Uncanny examples in nature
Disputed observations (Wikipedia)
For the first WP meeting of 2013, Toby Houlton, an Old Chigwellian studying for a doctorate at the University of Dundee, told us about shrunken heads – tsantsa: who produced them, how and why. We learnt about the tribes in Peru and Ecuador where these customs arose, and the religious beliefs behind the custom. Most cultures preserve their own dead and try and erase the memory of their enemies; these SAAWK tribes did the opposite, as they believed that new members of a tribe could only be born if their dead were completely forgotten. Thus they erased all memory of their own ancestors, but preserved the heads of their enemies. They also believed that the enemy’s spirit could come out of his mouth to haunt them, hence the stitching up of this orifice. Toby explained how the heads were shrunk – basically by taking off the skin and chemically hardening it – and made to look stupid by pushing back the nostrils and pulling out the lips. We passed round a pig’s head which Toby, to prove that he understood the method, had shrunk himself.
He then told us about how colonialism had distorted the system: because Europeans were keen to possess tsantsa, the tribes actually went out hunting enemies just to fuel this export market. Europeans also made versions themselves, sometimes to sell as ‘the real thing’. It’s now been banned, so the practice has stopped.
A brilliantly delivered and fascinating account of something everyone has heard about but knows little of.
Mr Wille led all three sections of the WP in an investigation into the application of scientific method to the variety of life on earth. This fast and challenging presentation culminated in reading the letter to the Kansas School Board from a believer in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, requesting that if Creationism (or, as it has to be called, “Intelligent Design”) is to be taught as a valid alternative to Darwinism, that his beliefs should also be on the curriculum. Much scoffing at the irony-unaware responses this generated on the message boards.