Science Showdown Winners

The results of the science writing competition.

First Place

Biology, The Centre of Life

By Alice Grimmette

There are many subjects that are now considered a science, but the most important remains biology. Maths is simply a tool required by other sciences, basic geography skills are no longer required with the invention of sat-navs and engineering only uses up the earth’s resources to build tall things. Psychology has tried to become a core science subject but unfortunately it still lives in the past, examining Freud’s crazy theories of psychosexual development. This is a shame because if focus shifted to the actual neuroscience underlying human behaviour it could become very interesting indeed. I admit that physics and chemistry are true sciences. However, they are preoccupied with studying the tiniest aspects of this world, from quarks to molecular structures, which means they lack insight into the overall picture of life.

On the other hand, biology is centred around life. Biology defines us, the world we live in, and the millions of organisms we share it with. The unit of biology is the cell, an incredible machine that contains, and knows how to unlock, our DNA. Genes are transcribed and translated into proteins, which carry out the fundamental life processes, including metabolism. However, unlike other scientists, this level of detail does not stop a biologist from relating to the overall view of animal, plant or human biology. We never lose sight of our important end goals, which range from species protection to disease treatments, and all aims are centred on improving quality of life. Whilst we are not medics, our research underpins how patients can be treated and our knowledge is increasing each day. Yes, all science moves forward, as that is the nature of scientific discoveries, but the direction of the advance is critical. For example, advances in aerospace engineering may soon allow a select group of people to make a one-way trip to Mars. However, being confined to a large box and never returning to earth seems like an attempt to escape real life to me.

Life is ours, and we only get one. Therefore focus should be on prolonging and enhancing every aspect of our lives, to which biology is an essential component. Other sciences may provide intellectual entertainment, but cannot deliver the same future opportunities. Imagine a world without terminal illness or food shortages… or are you too busy star-gazing?

Second Place

Geology is the Best

By Isabel Ashman

It can get tiresome arguing the validity of your science just because people believe everything they hear on TV. In reality, geology is not only a real science, but the best science degree!

First of all, Earth sciences encompasses aspects from almost every single science, so you don’t just have to like rocks. Geophysicists get to apply physics to the real world rather than dealing with mind-bendingly abstract quantum physics, and environmental geoscientists focus on physical processes similarly to geographers. Even basic geologists have to have a working understanding of chemistry, physics, biology, geography and so on. My point is that geology is open to everyone, no matter their preference in terms of sciences.

Also, geology doesn’t assume that you already know what you’re doing when you start your degree. About half of the Earth sciences students had never even heard of a gneiss or a trilobite before coming to Durham, but starting on a level pegging is preferable to being told that your entire A Level was a lie. In addition, Earth scientists end up with one of the widest skill sets in the sciences as we not only have to be able to operate in the field, but we have to use microscopy, chemical analysis and computer modelling to test our theories. It pains me to admit that we do more colouring in than even the geographers, but who doesn’t like a bit of calming colouring every now and again?

Apart from the science, university geology is a tight knit community where you can actually get to know and befriend people from other colleges. Rather than huddling in an enormous lecture theatre in your college group with hundreds of other students, the geology department is cosy with practicals where students work together and can bond over shared confusion. Field trips are a serious bonding experience where everyone becomes fast friends due to shared suffering because of the work and weather. In-jokes abound when you’re stuck with a group of great people 24 hours a day in the middle of nowhere trying to decipher the history of a rock. There is a great vibe in the Earth sciences department, in that you feel you can strike up a conversation with anyone and have a good laugh.

Finally, at the end of an Earth sciences degree you actually have good job prospects. With the department being sponsored by BP and numerous other companies making donations to it, Durham geology students are prime candidates to be snapped up into first-rate graduate schemes. Whilst you may end up in a job that doesn’t look after the planet too well, you’d be pretty pleased with the big pay cheque when you make that big discovery!

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