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Saint Maur graduate gives lecture on Genetics and Disease

News Type: 
Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Science Department recently welcomed back one the Saint Maur graduate from the 1995 class. Dr Vanessa Sancho-Shimizu kindly took on some of her time off visiting relatives in Japan to give a presentation to our Grade 11 Biology students about her work on the study of genetics in order to understand Human health and disease.

After graduating from Saint Maur, Dr Sancho-Shimizu attended McGill University in Montreal, where she obtained her BSc degree. She then moved to Paris to undertake her PhD at the Necker Children Hospital, and upon completion, she relocated to the United Kindgom in 2012 and started her own lab at the prestigious Imperial College in 2014. She and her team are currently working on understanding the Mendelian predispositions to rare childhood infections, specifically: identifying genes underlying childhood herpes simplex encephalitis, severe viral infections, and invasive meningococcal disease.

Our students got a rare chance to connect some of the most advanced elements of the IB curriculum to real-life research and many were truly inspired to see one of their seniors achieving such success after graduating and contributing to understanding and curing human disease. We thank Dr Sancho-Shimuzu for her time and generosity and hope to welcome her back again at Saint Maur very soon.

Lecture by Dr Todd Taylor (RIKEN) on Big Data in Science

News Type: 
Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The yearly visit of the Yokohama campus of the RIKEN Research Institute has now become somewhat of a tradition and it is truly one of the highlights for IB Biologists. This year, we brought this collaboration one step further with the visit of one of RIKEN Yokohama's senior scientists, Dr Todd Duane Taylor, who gave our IB Biologists and Physicists a lecture about handling and curating the ever increasing amount of scientific data generated worldwide.

Dr Taylor earned his Ph.D. in genetics from OHSU in Portland, Oregon. In 1998, he became part of the groundbreaking research team at RIKEN Genomic Science Center in Yokohama, that worked on the Human Genome Project. A few years later he became a team leader in bioinformatics, where he continued to work on the human genome, the chimpanzee genome, and more recently on metagenomics as related to human health and the environment. He is now a Senior Research Scientist in the Laboratory for Microbiome Sciences and a Coordinator at RIKEN's Center for Integrative Medical Sciences.

We first met Dr Taylor last year when he was in charge of giving our Grade 11 Biologists a tour of the RIKEN facilities. A year later, it was the turn of our IB biologists and Physicists to welcome Dr Taylor to our school, where they heard about his unique perspective on how scientific research generates large amounts of so called "Big Data". He discussed how researchers in the field have to face challenges in organizing and curating such data, which is not at all unlike those faced by major players on the web, the so-called GAFA. Dr Taylor's team actually produced their own tool, which they called iCLiKVAL, short for Interactive Crowd-sourced Literature Key-Value Annotation Library. iCLiKVAL is an annotation tool that uses the power of crowd-sourcing to add valuable annotation information to the rapidly accumulating volume of scientific literature (e.g, PubMed), and other media types, resulting in a comprehensive library of data that yields richer and more relevant search results.

After a one-hour lecture that brought the students up to speed, Dr Taylor gave a demonstration of iCLiKVAL and students were able to add their own contribution to this crowd-sourced, open source, annotation effort. The students quickly got the hang of it and competed for who would bring the largest number of annotations. The prize was a copy of the original Nature magazine that reported the findings of the Human Genome Project, signed by Dr Taylor himself.

Two hours was too short a time and we are already hoping to welcome Dr Taylor back again next year, possibly to hear about the amazing story of the Human Genome Project, which is still to this day one of the most significant examples of human collaboration and achievement.

We would like to thank Dr Taylor and RIKEN Yokohama for their constant effort in communicating science with the wider community.

For more information about the Science Department, visit our website!

Chemistry Lab Visit for PSG Bingo Prize

News Type: 
Wednesday, April 24, 2019

On Wednesday 10th April twenty one excited students from Grade 3 paid a visit to Dr. Suzuki in the Chemistry Lab. The excursion was the top prize for achieving a ‘blackout’ in the PSG Bingo and was won by a Grade 3 student. Students participated in a variety of demonstrations and carried out some of their own practical work. They learned about the importance of obtaining scientific evidence to distinguish between gases that looked the same. They collected hydrogen gas and found out that it burns with a pop sound.

After blowing into water with a straw, they found out that the carbon dioxide from their breath makes the water acidic. All students love snow but because it wasn’t a cold day, instead of playing with snow outside, they made artificial snow in the lab. The afternoon ended with a chemical bingo game. Each student randomly selected a small sample bottle of a colourless liquid. Dr. Suzuki’s assistant carefully added a few drops of a different colourless liquid to each bottle. For a few lucky students, the liquid turned pink and they won a small prize.

Join us on May 17th for the Middle School Science Fair!

News Type: 
Thursday, March 14, 2019

Each year, students in Grades 6 and 7 apply their scientific knowledge and skills in an in-depth investigation of a scientific topic of their choice. Please join us at the Middle School Science Fair on Friday, May 17th when this year’s cohort will present their scientific findings to the community. We are fortunate to welcome students from Yokohama Science Frontier High School who have offered their expert evaluation of our students’ work over the years.

The purpose of this project to give students hands-on experience in the collaborative nature, rigor, and complexity of scientific research. Many of our IB scientists look back on their own middle school science investigation as the first practical experience they had in the labs. 

Details can be found below. This year's projects cover a wide range of fields from gravity and motion to food and plant science. We hope to see you there!

  • Date: Friday, May 17th 
  • Time: 2:25-3:20
  • Location: Science Building

Grade 9 Students Produce Science Videos

News Type: 
Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Over the past few years, the Science Department has been producing a number of videos presenting some of the various experimental techniques routinely used in its labs. The initiative was started by a group of IB students who wished to share their experience and newly acquired skills with fellow scientists.

Some of the resulting videos have proven quite successful, reaching way beyond the Saint Maur community. For instance the Bacterial Isolation video reached over 41,000 views on YouTube and is by far the school's most popular video.

One of our first videos on Bacterial Isolation

More recently, students in younger age groups have begun to express an interest in teaching their skills to others. As a result, we have begun planning videos with students in Grade 9 IGCSE Combined Sciences. This work led to the recent release of two new videos, demonstrating respectively Plasmolysis in Onion epidermal Cells, and the Effects of the Enzyme Protease on Gelatin.

David C. from Grade 9 demonstrating Plasmolysis in Onion Epidermal Cells

Céline E. from grade 9 demonstrating the Effects of Bromelain on Gelatin (video co-written by Riko S. from Grade 9)

Those students took upon themselves to make time to plan the videos, write the scripts, and to record the techniques after school, hence demonstrating an outstanding level of commitment and enthusiasm for science. We hope that those videos will be helpful to all other students from our school as well as others, and that they will help inspire other scientists.

Grade 11 Students Visit RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science

News Type: 
Friday, March 1, 2019

Saint Maur International School's yearly visit to the RIKEN Yokohama Campus took place on Monday, February 25th. This is one of several opportunities for our IB Biologists to connect with the world of research and academia, and to discover the making of cutting edge science.

Sixteen of our Grade 11 Biology (SL and HL) students made their way to the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science, located in Tsurumi, Yokohama. They were invited to listen to a lecture by Dr Zarnad Ahmad, a Pakistani research scientist working in the Plant Genomic Network Research Unit led by Dr Motoaki Seki. The team's work aims to improve crop using biotechnologies in order to face the challenges of climate change. Dr Ahmad is also spoke about her journey as a scientist and gave the students a summary of what life as a researcher might look like. Following a Q&A, students made their way to the research labs for the anticipated visit of the DNA sequencing facilities.

Dr Akiko Minoda, a Japanese scientist educated in the United Kingdom led the tour of the impressive sequencing facilities, which are the second largest in the country. Dr Minoda is the Leader of the Epigenome Technology Exploration Unit, whose main focus is to develop novel epigenomic technologies to study combinations of histone modifications. Applied to diseased cells, including cancerous ones, this method could lead to the identification of epigenomic signatures to help identify novel diagnostic and therapeutic targets.

Dr Minoda explained RIKEN's leading effort to sequence and characterize lesser-studied parts of the genome that do not code for genes, but are essential for controlling the expression of those and responsible for a number of phenotypic features. Epigenetics being one of the more challenging parts of the IB Biology curriculum, it was very helpful to approach the topic from a more concrete angle.

Video of the April 2016 visit

Just like with Dr Ahmad, students got the chance, after the visit of the facilities, to enter into discussion with Dr Minoda. On the way back, as always, those encounters sparked a number of discussions, especially this year with the students having the chance to meet two very successful female researchers who certainly serve as role models for many.

Yokohama Science Frontier High School Students Visit Saint Maur International School

News Type: 
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Six students from Yokohama Science Frontier High School (YSFH) visited Saint Maur between November 14th – 16th as part of the annual exchange programme. The students followed their Grade 10 and 11 hosts and as well as taking a keen interest in how Science is taught at Saint Maur, participated in the full range of regular classes and activities. The event provided students with the opportunity to find out about the differences between the Japanese education system and life at an International School. Many of the students were surprised by the differences between them.

When doing a Chemistry lab with her partner, Sophia (Gr11) was interested to see how they both used a different method to calculate their results but ended up with the same final answer. Karen (Gr11) was impressed when her partner was able to teach her some calculus. The YSFH visit coincided with the preview of the school play ‘1984’ and visitors were able to see how the cast and crew prepared for the show. After chatting with his guest, Charles (Gr10) commented that ‘I am very lucky to be able to learn History, Drama, Art and Spanish because many schools do not have these options’.

The exchange was not all academic studies and hard work. Jasang (Gr11) enjoyed playing ping-pong at lunch-time with his partner and Kye and Yuka (Gr10) enjoyed great conversation and getting to know their new YSFH friends. We are grateful to Mr. Yutaka Kurisu for facilitating the exchange on the YSFH side and we look forward to many more opportunities for fruitful collaboration in the future.

Presentation "The Longest Swim"

Thursday, May 24, 2018

In 1998, Ben Lecomte swam across the Atlantic Ocean in support of cancer research as a tribute to his father. Despite being followed by a shark for five days, being stung by jellyfish, and being completely exhausted, Ben successfully completed the swim in 73 days.

This time, The Longest Swim will be the 1st attempt to swim across the Pacific Ocean. After his daily 8-hour swim, Ben will jump onboard the support sailing yacht “Discoverer” to eat, rest and spend time with the crew. The crew will mark his GPS location when he breaks for the day, and bring him to that exact spot to dive back in the next morning.

Meet some of the crew and support team including Paul Lecomte this Friday 25th May at 10:30 in the Saint Maur International School auditorium.

They will talk about the swim, but also about the various scientific experiments that will be taking place during this 6 to 8 months journey across the pacific ocean. The crew will use the equipment donated by 12 renown institutions (NASA, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution…), such as a net to sample plastic, and an advanced pH-meter to learn more about ocean pollution.

We are very happy to have the honor of their presence on our campus.

Their official departure from Chiba, Japan is scheduled early next week !

We hope to see you in the auditorium !

Learn more about the project and track the swim from


University of Manchester researchers present their work to IB Biologists

News Type: 
Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Thanks to an ongoing effort to communicate about its many activities, the Science Department has been generating more and more interest from fellow scientists in Japan and abroad. We were recently contacted by Dr Tucker Gilman, a biologist at the University of Manchester, who kindly offered us to present his work to our students. Dr Gilman and one of his graduate students, Ms Rebecca Lewis, came to our school on Friday 18th of May and gave our Grade 11 IB Biologists a 1-hour presentation of their work through a lecture and an exciting activity.

Lewis and Gilman are investigating the evolution of birdsong in captivity, with a particular focus on the Java sparrow. The Java sparrow was domesticated in Japan and is kept by hobbyists around the world, but it is now rare in the wild. Working with colleagues Masayo Soma at the University of Hokkaido and Leah Williams at Chester Zoo in the UK, they have discovered that Java sparrow songs are diverging in captivity and birds raised in Belgium sing different songs from those raised in Japan. The team is now trying to understand how extreme this divergence is. Are these just different accents, or are the birds speaking completely different languages? The answer is important for conservation. People hope someday to release captive birds to supplement the wild population, but if captive birds can no longer communicate with wild birds, such releases may not work.

This lecture was a wonderful opportunity for our students to connect with real researchers and put the content of the IB curriculum into context. In order to share what we learned from the presentation, we recorded the event on video. We hope that you will enjoy it!

Funding for this visit by provided by the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation

Middle School Science Fair 2018

News Type: 
Monday, May 21, 2018

Each year in semester 2, the grade six and seven students work in pairs or groups of up to four to design and carry out an investigation of their choice in order to practice and build upon their scientific skills. This year’s cohort presented the results of their investigations to the community, including students from Yokohama Science Frontier High School, on Friday, May 11th. While the students have an opportunity to earn a prize or the quality of their research, the purpose of this experience is to bring science to life in the classroom by having students take even greater ownership of the process of science; it is designed to help students appreciate the complexity, interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of the scientific field. We hope you enjoyed hearing about our students’ findings and seeing the excitement with which they told you about what they learned. And if you were unable to attend, not to worry...plenty of pictures were taken and can be viewed here! We hope you can join us again next year!

Photos by Jeffrey Glenn