The winners with Steve Mould

The winners with Steve Mould

The winners of the Wellcome Trust’s Survival Rivals competition to send a group of UK students to the Galapagos Islands were announced today at the British Science Festival in Birmingham.The four students will present their winning film to Festival visitors before collecting their golden ticket to retrace Charles Darwin’s famous voyage from judge and TV scientist Steve Mould.

As part of celebrations for Darwin 200, the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth in 1809, the Wellcome Trust distributed Survival Rivals experiment kits inspired by Darwin’s ideas, free of charge, to state secondary schools across the UK. Entrants to the competition were invited to submit short films and photographs to communicate the science behind these experiments in an engaging and imaginative way.

The winning students are Jessica Woodfield, Charlotte Woodfield, Becky Hill and Eleri Morgan from St Cyres School in Penarth, Wales. The girls were ecstatic on hearing the news: “We are overwhelmed by this once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the Galapagos. It is a dream come true. The time since hearing that we have won has been surreal, we can’t stop smiling! We would like to thank the Wellcome Trust for this fantastic opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Charles Darwin.”

Their teacher, Nicholas Alford, who supported the girls throughout the experience, added: “It is a great honour to win this prestigious award. Every biology teacher always dreams of ‘a field trip to the Galapagos’. It is a lifetime’s ambition to see the place that inspired the idea that changed the way that we see the nature of life itself. I am very grateful to the Wellcome trust, not just for the prize, but for their many other contributions to support the teaching of biology in our schools.”

Three Survival Rivals kits were available, targeted at different ages, each exploring different themes of natural selection and the theory of evolution. ‘I’m a Worm, Get Me Out Of Here!’ looked at the effects of environmental adaptation on survival and evolution, while ‘Brine Date’ focused on how sexual selection influences which genes are passed down to the next generation. The St Cyres team used the ‘The X-Bacteria’ kit to investigate how antibiotic resistance is passed through populations of bacteria. Their video depicts the team hard at work in the lab, whilst eloquently explaining the deeper scientific concepts involved in their experiments.

Judge Steve Mould, Blue Peter’s science expert, comments: “The quality of the entries was amazingly high. And I’m not surprised there was stiff competition with such a great prize up for grabs. In the end it was the clarity and enthusiasm of the St Cyres team that stood out above the others. The story of how science has moved forward thanks to Darwin’s ideas was told brilliantly. If Darwin were alive today he would likely be studying bacteria too.”

The Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean are well known for having provided the inspiration for the revolutionary ideas and hypotheses of Charles Darwin. He travelled there on board the HMS Beagle as part of a survey expedition in 1835. Through close study of the islands’ plants, animals,birds and reptiles, he proposed that many of them had developed from common ancestors and adapted to their environment over millions of years.

These ideas formed the basis of his book – ‘On the Origin of the Species’ – in which he set out his theory of evolution by natural selection. The book, which was highly controversial at the time, revolutionised the way we view ourselves and Darwin himself went on to become one of the most influential scientists of all time.

The group will depart for their two-week trip on 16 October accompanied by Dr Karen James, a scientist at the Natural History Museum. Under her guidance, the students will record their observations, thoughts, speculations and photographs from the trip with blog posts and Twitter, so that the world can follow their enviable journey online. This will provide source material for an ebook to be written and published approximately six months after the trip.

Clare Matterson, Director of Medical Humanities and Engagement commented: “Darwin’s ability to communicate his ideas was arguably as important as the ideas themselves. A trip to the Galapagos Islands is a once in a lifetime experience. We hope that it will inspire the students in all sort of ways, not only deepening their knowledge and understanding about the world, but also in how to communicate their ideas to family and friends.”

Eleven runner-up schools will each receive £650 worth of audiovisual equipment.

For further information on the competition or to order the experiment kits, visit the Survival Rivals website.

You can follow the students’ trip online through this blog from 16 October.

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