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.
During the summer vacation, Yokohama Science Frontier High School (YSFH) kindly invited a Grade 12 student to experience life as a Japanese high school student. This was just one of the many events organized as part of the Saint Maur – YSFH collaboration. In the following article, the student reflects on this worthwhile experience.
Glancing over at my phone for what felt like the 20th time, I checked that I was on the right train. Today, June 24, was the first day of school. The first day at a Japanese high school. I’ve transferred schools multiple times but I felt more anxious than any of my past experiences combined. The main reason that I had absolutely no idea what to expect. For international schools, I had a general idea of what kind of environment I was going to be placed in: diverse, open-minded, and lots of people like myself, third culture kids. At international schools, going in, I already knew that I wouldn’t have to explain my unnaturally light brown hair that contrasted my naturally black brows. It wasn’t against the school rules to dye your hair, and people wouldn’t even bother to ask why your hair color didn’t quite match your brow color. As soon as I arrived at the Tsurumiono station though, the station located close to Yokohama Science Frontier High School, I instantly regretted two things: Not dying my hair back to black and wearing my bright red Saint Maur jumper. The red sweater was clearly visible from a distance in the sea of light blue collared shirts and my light brown hair stood out. I was Japanese, the same nationality as everyone else on the platform, however, I felt like an anomaly. A wave of panic surged through me, as thoughts swirled around my mind contemplating if I had made the right decision to come to this exchange. Before I could continue my internal conversation, a tap on my right shoulder snapped me out of my thoughts as a familiar face appeared in front of me. It was Takara, a girl that I had met in the science immersion program I had attended at their school a few years back. Instantaneously, I felt relieved as I saw a familiar face, and in no time we were both already in front of the school entrance.
The next few moments were a blur, most likely erased from my memory due to the overwhelming amount of anxiety I felt when I had to introduce myself to the whole faculty, in Japanese (not English like I was used to). I realized then that I was going to have to speak only my “mother tongue” for the whole week, and could not substitute the words I didn’t quite know how to say in Japanese for the English word. I zipped open my bag to make sure my electronic dictionary was in there.
Arriving at the classroom, my guides for the week, Shu, Shota, and Ayami, greeted me with kindness. To say the least, I felt relieved. They all seemed like people I would be able to get along with. After brief introductions and a plethora of nervous laughs (mostly coming from myself), the navigation to the first class began, led by Shu. The very first class was “Classic Japanese Literature”, and the whole time walking to the class, I was so anxious that I would be called on to read a passage that I had never studied before.
About 20 minutes into the class, I realized that my expectations for this class, more so this experience, was extremely skewed towards the pessimistic side. Rather than constantly fearing the question “what if...” which stemmed from my preconceived notions of Japanese high schools, it came to my realization that the whole experience would be much more enjoyable if I discarded those pessimistic thoughts. I am glad I became aware of these thoughts, as soon after I found myself immersed in Classic Japanese Literature, and was fascinated by my own culture.
There were also moments of elation, for instance when I looked up to the board, I saw a diagram of the Hess’ Energy Cycle and I thought to myself “I’ve learnt this before!” I was intrigued by the fact that although I was an International school student in a Japanese school, I was still able to understand the concepts behind the chemistry that was presented in front of me. By the end of the lesson, I had a complete understanding on Hess’ Law, in two different languages, and felt ecstatic that I would be able to explain what I had learnt at school today to my parents without having to pull out my electronic dictionary or searching it up online. Such instances like these kept happening throughout the week, where I gained more knowledge in areas that I had already studied, in a different language. During Biology classes, Ayami and I would both connect on several aspects of genetics, and also jokingly share our hate for Punnet squares, due to the excessive number of times we had to draw it over the course of the genetics chapter.
Before attending this exchange, I doubted that I would be able to relate, especially regarding academics, with high schoolers which are in a completely different educational system as myself. However, this proved to be completely false as over the course of the week, the starting points of the conversations with my fellow classmates were about how we felt about the certain subject or topic.
We were not quite so different after all, contrary to what I expected prior to visiting YSFH.
Glancing over at my phone for the first time that day, I briefly stared at the screen which read 7:30 June 28th. I stepped off the train where I was greeted with a waving gesture, and made my way towards the group of friends which I was going to walk to school, for the last time leading me to feel bittersweet.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 http://thelongestswim.com
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