Tuesday, 04 July 2017
A slime mould project jointly created by Boys’ Division biology teacher Mr David Teasdale and Dutch teacher Hans Mulder has been Highly Commended at the International Science on Stage Festival. This event brings together delegates from all over Europe to share teaching ideas. Over 200 different scientific projects from 40 countries were showcased at the Festival, with just ten of them receiving a highly commended award.
Mr Teasdale and Mr Mulder’s project was titled ‘Is slime mould smarter than you?’ and is based on a joint international project between students in the Boys’ Division and at the Jan Tinbergen College in the Netherlands. Over the last two years, pupils have been exploring the behaviour of this fascinating organism which is not a plant, animal, or fungi and doesn’t have a brain, yet its ability to seek out food sources and form complicated networks between them seems to suggest intelligence.
The idea of this student-led project is to allow pupils to design and conduct their own experiments to try to understand and manipulate the behaviour of slime mould. Although the mould is easy to grow, it is a biological organism that responds to a large number of variables and so it is not easy to control. Students are therefore conducting a genuine biological investigation and experience some of the difficulties they might come across as professional scientific researchers.
In the most famous experiment with slime mould, oats were set out in the shape of Tokyo’s subway stations, and in just 36 hours the slime mould produced a network very similar to the underground system that took human engineers 100 years to produce! Pupils in the Boys’ Division and at the Jan Tinbergen College have conducted experiments investigating preferences for agar (the jelly that the mould is grown on in the laboratory), comparing networks produced by the mould to road networks, finding which food sources the mould prefers, manipulating the life cycle of the mould, investigating if the slime mould will always find the nearest oat, experimenting with mould inhibitors in an attempt to improve the success of plates, dying the agar to improve filming results, and investigating if slime mould can solve mazes to find oats – which it can!
Mr Teasdale and Mr Mulder had a stall at the Science on Stage fair to explain their project and were also one of around fifteen projects selected to run a workshop. In the workshop, they taught delegates a bit about slime mould, explained the work carried out and allowed them to pour their own agar plates so that they could take some slime mould home with them. There was interest in the project from across Europe.
Mr Teasdale was delighted that the slime mould project received an award. He said, “The standard of all the projects at the festival was so high that it was a great honour to receive the highly commended award. It is just unfortunate that the award has my name on it, as it is the result of the hard work of all the boys in the NewBiologySociety at Bolton School and our colleagues from the Jan Tinbergen College in the Netherlands. It would not have been possible without the support of the School, especially our wonderful biology technicians Julie Hartley and Stacey Dawber.”
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