Staying underwater…for a very long time

Sixth Former Aaron Gruen writes: What is the first thing that would come to mind if you were asked to list the necessities required by humans on planet Earth? All pupils taking the IB programme had to consider this question in depth when taking part in the Group 4 Project last week.

This three-day project made everyone involved think ‘outside the box’ and really apply their knowledge to a problem that would normally take scientists years to address: how to design an underwater biosphere completely sealed off to anything and everything outside. Each group had a total of five members, each representing one of the IB ‘Group 4’ science subjects: Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Design and Technology, and Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS). Not only did we have to take on such a challenging problem, but there was added time pressure; two full days were dedicated to researching, carrying out experiments and constructing a poster, which was all required for the presentation evening on the final day.

As I am hoping to study science at university, this project gave me insight into how research is conducted in the professional world. Although there was no physical ‘reward’ at the end of it, everyone appeared to really contribute to their group, and this was also reflected in the quality of the presentations. Since each group member represented a different science, we always had to work together to solve problems; nearly every part of our research involved two or more sciences and this is certainly true in the professional world. Science frequently has a stereotype of being very mathematical and great for those who can memorise a set of equations, recite various physiological functions and classify plants. Science would be easy if it just relied on factual recall. However, all sciences require a great amount of creativity, which is sometimes not realised by pupils in schools. We often feel constrained by the limits of our courses and exam boards, but this project enabled us to break that invisible ‘barrier’ and understand what science and, in fact, learning in general is all about.

I worked in the Chemistry lab conducting an experiment that I researched, designed and planned, and it provided one of many innovative solutions to generating electricity for our biosphere; we would use the ammonia from human urine in a voltaic cell to produce a current. This had very little to do with my IB Chemistry course, but was simply fascinating in itself.

And finally, just like in professional research, we have the ability to see how other people went about creating their biosphere. I thought groups would have similar ideas, but I was surprised to see how every group took a unique approach to the problem with very different outcomes. I suppose this just supports the fact that sciences really do call for creativity.

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