Priestlands Science/STEM Club launch!!

 September 2017

STEM (science, technology, engineering & maths)

We are starting the new term with an exciting science design challenge for our new year 7 students…

…SuGRE!  Schools micro-gravity Rocket Experiment!

A School competition to design and build micro-sculptures, with the winning entry being sent into suborbital microgravity onboard a NASA rocket next April!

Look out for further details on the pupil post, and posters in Science and Technology.

Come along and join the fun!

Wednesday lunchtimes, 1-1:30 in S11.

For full competition details check out the website


Popcorn and Moles…Year 8 Science Masterclass

Super speedy popping popcorn! with Mr Boultwood, for our future physicists. Followed by,
Is it Safe to Swim in that Pool? with Miss Cooil, for the budding analytical chemists.



Over 40 year 8 students undertook the challenges, to calculate the speed of popcorn, and determine the unknown molarity of an acid.


The Popcorn Challenge:
To calculate the speed of popcorn kernels as they pop.
Firstly the students discussed types of energy, then decided which forms would be involved in their experiment, what they would need to measure and how they would work out the speed.

The practical was to weigh individual kernels, then heat the popcorn, and measure the height the kernels ‘jumped’.

It was certainly fun, corn popping all around the lab, taking some of us by surprise, all with the lovely smell of popcorn!

Next came the hard work…the speed calculations, using:

Gravitational potential energy=mass x height x gravitational field strength

So what is the speed of popcorn?

Answer: 9.9 meters per second!!

The Molarity Challenge:

To work like an analytical chemist, and determine the molarity of an unknown acid which had been spilt in a swimming pool.

The students learnt to carefully and correctly use titration equipment; pipettes, fillers and burettes.

To understand using phenol phthalein indicator to find an end point, then carry out a titration using a 1 M base (NaOH), in order to calculate the molarity of the unknown acid (HCl).


Next came the mathematical part of the challenge, to calculate the unknown molar solution, using the triangle…

Answer: The acid was a 0.8 M solution, lots of the students were spot on or very close! 

Both master classes were exciting, dynamic, fun and full of learning, with new equipment and techniques. The students then had to perform trials, collect results, make mistakes, understand and learn from their errors, before moving on to confidently formulate answers from their calculations. Well done to you all who took part!


YOUNG ENGINEERS – A Year 7 Masterclass with Marcus!

On Monday 19th June, Priestlands Science hosted an Energy Quest Masterclass for 24 Year 7 students.

The session was led by Marcus Cherrill, formerly a science teacher from Brighton, now promoting Engineering within schools.
Marcus is an innovative educator with over twenty years teaching experience, working in a variety of schools. He has delivered training to schools around the world on a wide range of teaching and learning topics. His background as an outstanding science teacher and senior leader brings a depth of understanding of school needs, allowing schools to find practical, sustainable solutions.

Sustainable Engineering

“What we do in our world to make things better.”

The morning was divided into three sessions:
Session 1
Understanding Energy; students engaged in discussion of renewable (wind, solar, wave), non-renewable (fossil fuels, nuclear), and sustainable (hydroelectric, geothermal) forms of energy.

By 2050 there will be approximately 9 billion people on our planet, fossil fuels are running out, nuclear fuels are not sustainable, what can we do?
What will our engineers of the future do?

Session 2
The Engineering Design Process

Using 2.5v capacitors, solar panels and the glorious sunshine to charge them, the students were given the equipment to build solar cars. Then following the engineering design process cycle, they tested and modified and retested according to their results.

This was followed by two challenges:-

Firstly how far the cars would go on 1 volt.

Secondly how far the cars would go, when fully charged at 2.5 volts.

Lewis and Owen, the winning pair left the 30m finish line far behind achieving an awesome 48 meters!!! Well done boys!

Session 3
What does an Engineer look like?

Hearing from young engineers about their work; from building the London Olympic Stadium, transporting gas from offshore platforms to our shores, to music recording and wave compression by a sound engineer. Engineering is important everywhere, in all aspects of modern life. Who knows what innovative designs our young engineers could create in the future?

“Thank you Marcus for a brilliant session; science, learning, fun and hopefully some future inspiration.”

DRAGON IN SPACE! Saturday Sees Successful Launch for SpaceX



Dragon is a free-flying spacecraft designed to deliver both cargo and people to orbiting destinations.  Dragon made history in 2012 when it became the first commercial spacecraft in history to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and safely return cargo to Earth.  It is the only spacecraft currently flying that is capable of returning significant amounts of cargo to Earth.  Currently Dragon carries cargo to space, but it was designed from the beginning to carry humans.  Under an agreement with NASA, SpaceX is now developing the refinements that will enable Dragon to fly crew. Dragon’s first manned test flight is expected to take place as early as 2018 (SpaceX).  And in the future, the dream, human transportation to Mars…

Saturday’s successful launch finally took place after delays due to bad weather.It is the first time SpaceX has attempted to reuse one of its Dragon cargo capsules for an active orbital mission.  Reuse of the Dragon, along with reuse of its Falcon 9 rockets, is key to SpaceX’s long-term profitability.
SpaceX will recover its Falcon 9 first stage at its LZ-1 landing pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where it landed successfully, upright on the landing pad approximately eight minutes after lift-off.


Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, seen here with then US president Barack Obama, has stated that the goals of SpaceX revolve around his vision to change the world and humanity.  His goals include reducing global warming through sustainable energy production and consumption, and reducing the “risk of human extinction” by “making life multiplanetary” by establishing a human colony on Mars.




TRAPPIST-1 is an ultra-cool dwarf star in the constellation Aquarius, orbited by a total of seven planets, all around the size of the Earth.

Three of them — TRAPPIST-1e, f and g — dwell in their star’s so-called “habitable zone.” The habitable zone, or Goldilocks zone, is a band around every star (shown here in green) where astronomers have calculated that temperatures are just right — not too hot, not too cold — for liquid water to pool on the surface of an Earth-like world.

While TRAPPIST-1b, c and d are too close to be in the system’s likely habitable zone, and TRAPPIST-1h is too far away, the planets’ discoverers say more optimistic scenarios could allow any or all of the planets to harbor liquid water.
In particular, the strikingly small orbits of these worlds make it likely that most, if not all of them, are tidally locked, perpetually showing the same face to their star, the way our moon always shows the same face to the Earth. This would result in an extreme range of temperatures from the day to night sides, allowing for situations not factored into the traditional habitable zone definition.
The system has been revealed through observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the ground-based TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) telescope, as well as other ground-based observatories. The system was named after the TRAPPIST telescope.
Astronomers made the discovery by looking for :-

1) dips in the light emitted by TRAPPIST-1, as this can indicate the presence of an orbiting planet. These dips are known as ‘transits’ and studying them also enables astronomers to learn much about the planets’ composition, sizes and orbits.

2) ‘wobble’ method, measuring radial velocity of the star.
(Information taken from NASA, JPL,web pages).

JANUARY 2017 “Happy Stargazing New Year!”

Cold, clear winter skies offer the best sights for naked eye, binocular and telescope observing, so wrap up and get out there.

2-4th January look out for the peak of the Quadrantids, a meteor shower radiating from just below the Ursa Major constellation.


11th January Earth is at perihelion, the point during its orbit that is closest to the Sun, only 147,101,082km or 0.98AU.

11-13th the Moon shows a little more of its surface due to ‘libration’ allowing observation of features on the northeast lunar limb, look for the area around Mare Humboldtianum.



Observing on the 12th, allows the opportunity to see the brightest planet Venus alongside the dimmest Neptune, (with less than a full moon’s diameter between them). Neptune is so far away that binoculars at least will be needed, preferably a telescope.
All month, beautiful Venus at a magnitude of -4.3 to -4.6 graces our skies, reaching it’s point of greatest eastern elongation.

For those who like a real challenge, using binoculars or a telescope look out for W Orionis, part of Orion the hunter constellation, it is a small, cool temperature carbon star, with the blue wavelength light absorbed, it appears a deep red!


DARK MATTER, want to know more?

Join us on Wednesday 14th December for the astronomy trip to Winchester Science Centre.


Professor Justin Read (University of Surrey)

Justin completed his PhD in theoretical astrophysics at Cambridge University, UK in 2004. After a two-year postdoctoral research position, also in Cambridge, he moved to the University of Zürich to join the computational science group. In 2009, he joined the University of Leicester as a lecturer in theoretical astrophysics, and in October 2010 he was awarded an SNF assistant professorship at the ETH Zürich. In April 2013, he took up a full Chair at the University of Surrey, UK. He was recently awarded the MERAC Prize by the European Astronomical Society for his high impact research in computational astrophysics and cosmology.

We leave school at 4:45 in the minibus, the lecture is at 6:30 followed by a planetarium show, and we return to school at 9 o’clock.

Letters available from the science prep-room.

The trip cost is £12.50, to cover ticket and transport.

How to see a SUPER-MOON!


If you only see one astronomical event this year, make it the November supermoon, when the Moon will be the closest to Earth it’s been since January 1948.
During the event, which will happen on the eve of November 14, the Moon will appear up to 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than an average full moon. This is the closest the Moon will get to Earth until 25 November 2034, so you really don’t want to miss this one.
A supermoon is the coincidence of a full moon or a new moon with the closest approach the Moon makes to the Earth on its elliptical orbit, resulting in the largest apparent size of the lunar disk as seen from Earth. The technical name is the perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system.

The name SuperMoon was coined by Richard Nolle in 1979, arbitrarily defined as:
…a new or full moon which occurs with the Moon at or near (within 90% of) its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit (perigee). In short, Earth, Moon and Sun are all in a line, with Moon in its nearest approach to Earth.

If you’re viewing from a spot where the Moon is sitting close to the horizon, it can create what’s known as ‘moon illusion’.
“When the moon is near the horizon, it can look unnaturally large when viewed through trees, buildings, or other foreground objects,” says NASA. “The effect is an optical illusion, but that fact doesn’t take away from the experience.”
So go out, look up and enjoy our beautiful moon!

SEPTEMBER SKIES: Looking up this month…it’s all about the Moon.


To mark the International Year of Astronomy, a team of British astronomers made the largest lunar image in history and gained a place in the Guinness Book of Records! The whole image comprises 87.4 megapixels with a Moon diameter of 9550 pixels. This allows details as small as 1km across to be discerned!

The superb quality of the image is shown by the detail below of Plato and the Alpine Valley. Craterlets are seen on the floor of Plato and the rille along the centre of the Alpine valley is clearly visible.

The team of Damian Peach, Pete lawrence, Dave Tyler, Bruce Kingsley, Nick Smith, Nick Howes, Trevor Little, David Mason, Mark and Lee Irvine, and Ninian Boyle captured video sequences from which 288 individual mozaic panes were stitched together to form the lunar image.


Plato (left) and the Alpine Valley Rille (right)

September 9th and 22nd, look out for The Alpine Valley
These are good nights to observe this interesting feature on the Moon with binoculars or a small telescope.  Close to the limb is the Appenine mountain chain that marks the edge of Mare Imbrium.  Towards the upper end you should see the cleft across them called the Alpine valley, about 7 miles wide and 79 miles long.

While September 16th brings the “Harvest Moon”


To astronomers this means something very specific, the Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the September equinox, the moon becomes full at the instant when the moon is 180 degrees from the sun in ecliptic – or celestial – longitude.


The Moon’s orbital motion (combined with the larger orbit of the Earth around the Sun) carries it farther eastward among the constellations of the zodiac from night to night. At any one moonrise, the Moon occupies a particular place on the celestial sphere (the great dome of the heavens), but when the Earth turns toward that point 24 hours later, the Moon has moved off to the east about 12 degrees, and it takes an average of 50 minutes longer for the Earth to rotate toward the Moon and for the Moon thus to “rise.”
But around the date of the Harvest Moon, the Moon rises about the same time. It may almost seem as if there are full Moons multiple nights in a row!
Why? Because the zodiac is the band of constellations through which the Moon travels from night to night. The section of the zodiac band in which the full Moon travels around the start of autumn is the section that forms the most shallow angle with the eastern horizon. Because the Moon’s orbit on successive nights is more nearly parallel to the horizon at that time, its relationship to the eastern horizon does not change appreciably, and the Earth does not have to turn as far to bring up the Moon.

Find a good moon map, and identify craters, rilles, and wrinkle ridges on the moon for yourself!

Get out there and enjoy the Autumn night sky!


A newly discovered planet, 1.3 times the size of Earth, is orbiting our nearest neighbouring star Proxima Centauri, and it might be habitable, according to a team of astronomers using the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-meter telescope in Chile.


European Southern Observatory

The Centauri system consists of three stars. There is the Alpha Centauri binary made up of two stars similar to our sun, and then the much smaller Proxima Centauri that orbits them.

Proxima Centauri lies just over 4 light years away and the newly discovered exoplanet named Proxima b, is at a distance from its star that allows temperatures mild enough for liquid water to pool on its surface; known as the ‘Goldilocks Zone’.

The likelihood of finding liquid water (or even life) on Proxima b depend on the atmospheric composition. It could be vaguely Earth-like or more like Mars. At just 4.2 light years away, there’s a good chance that astronomers can characterize the atmosphere and surface of Proxima b in a way that we haven’t been able to with exoplanets that are dozens or hundreds of light years away.

“NASA congratulates ESO on the discovery of this intriguing planet that has captured the hopes and the imagination of the world. We look forward to learning more about the planet, whether it holds ingredients that could make it suitable for life.”

The science team that made the discovery, led by Guillem Anglada-Escudé of Queen Mary University of London, using the Doppler shift method; where ‘wobbles’ in a star’s radial velocity alters the colour of the light observed by astronomers, inferring the presence of a body orbiting the star.

This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image to the upper-right of Proxima itself. Proxima b is a little more massive than the Earth and orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, where the temperature is suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface.

This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image to the upper-right of Proxima itself.

The team traced subtle wobbles in the star revealing the presence of a star-tugging exoplanet, this new planet orbits its star so closely it takes only 11 days to complete a single orbit, a ‘year’ on Proxima b.