Winners!

“Mr Alford called us and said, well it’s not good news I’m afraid…. it’s amazing news! And I just started screaming!”

That was the reaction of Charlotte Woodfield on hearing the news that her and twin sister Jessica, along with friends Eleri Morgan and Becky Hill had won the trip of a lifetime to the Galapagos Islands.

The four girls from St Cyres School in Penarth, Wales, are the winners of the Survival Rivals competition, part of the Wellcome Trust’s celebrations to mark the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth. Last week, at the British Science Festival in Birmingham, the girls were presented with their ‘golden tickets’ in front of festival goers, family and friends by head judge and Blue Peter presenter Steve Mould.

The competition was based around the Survival Rivals experiment kits inspired by Darwin’s ideas that the Wellcome Trust distributed to secondary schools around the country. Students were asked to make short films that communicated the experiments and the theories behind them, but in an engaging and imaginative way so that anybody would be able to understand.

When I was asked to judge the competition, I was initially sceptical about how good the entries would be. I didn’t imagine schools would have great access to film making equipment. I was pleased to be proven wrong. The standard of entries was very high and I was extremely impressed with the resourcefulness of the students. But all the judges agreed that the St Cyres team stood out above the others.

The girls used the X-Bacteria kit, designed to investigate how bacteria can swap antibiotic resistance genes between each other. They explained how the experiment works as if they were talking to Darwin himself, discussing how science has moved forward thanks to his ideas.

The result is a film that, for me, captures the very essence of scientific discovery. Although Charles Darwin’s ideas were clearly revolutionary, equally as important is the way those ideas have been progressed and are still being challenged by the experiments and investigations of others. But don’t take my word for it, you can watch for yourself.

Their reward is the chance to follow in Darwin’s footsteps, with a field trip out to the Galapagos Islands. The girls will be accompanied by their teacher, Mr Nicholas Alford, who assisted the girls with their winning entry and is possibly even more excited.

“Every teacher dreams of a trip to the Galapagos,” he said, “it’s the closest thing to a pilgrimage that I’m likely to get!”

Mr Alford thanked the Wellcome Trust for their support of science teaching and the Darwin 200 resources, which he says have made it a really exciting time to be a biology teacher. Glad to hear we’re helping!

Joining them on the trip will be Dr Karen James, scientist at the Natural History Museum and renowned science blogger. Karen will help the girls to document their experiences online through blogging and social media, so that the team can diarise their thoughts, observations and feelings in much the same way that Darwin did with his Journal of Researches. These will be collected into an e-book at the end of it all, but will also enable you to follow their enviable journey too. You can follow their adventures on this very blog and check out images from their trip on their flickr account here.

Jen Middleton, Media Officer, The Wellcome Trust

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