“Rigour and abstraction is what separates maths from all other subjects, making it the very best.”

Hye Ji pic 2


Former SHS pupil, Hye Ji, currently studies Maths at Cambridge. She has written a truly superb article, in which she explains some of the new mathematical ideas and problems she has learnt about, in a way which should be accessible to AS/A Level pupils. From formal definitions of continuity, to Metric Spaces, to the Bolzano-Weierstrass theorem, this article will make your mind boggle and will get you thinking about maths in completely new ways!

Click this link for her PDF article: rigour and abstraction _ ver2

After her first term at Oxford, Tina M tells of the Italian film she has been studying

italian filmI read Spanish and Italian at Oriel College, Oxford Univeristy. I only started learning Italian this term and so language wise it has been quite a challenge. However, a big part of any language degree at Oxford is an in depth study into the literature of the languages studied. This term I have studied two novels, one collection of poetry, one play, one short story and one film. I found it particularly interesting studying the film, I cento passi, because in the past I have only ever studied literature. I cento passi is a film about the mafia, directed by Marco Tulio Giordana, which focuses on the story of a young man called Peppino Impastato who dedicated his life to campaigning against the mafia. I also found I cento passi interesting because the other three texts I studied, Se questo è un uomo, Lessico famigliare, and Ungaretti’s L’Allegria, are all based on either the First or Second World War.


In previous years, I cento passi was taught in the second term of first year rather than the first term because tutors felt that it would be too complicated to introduce us to film studies so early on in our Italian learning. However, I am glad that it is now taught in Michaelmas Term as not only was it a welcome break from literary study but it also taught us about the Italian Mafia which remains a central aspect of Italian culture. I have really enjoyed my first term at Oxford, both academically and socially, and look forward to next term.


Gaby, former SHS pupil studying at Oxford, tells of her approach to History

In my second year at Cambridge, one of my modules focuses on American history since 1865. In many ways this is a departure from what I studied last year, as first year revolves almost exclusively around British and European history. However, in other respects, it is quite familiar terrain, as the Cold War, Korean War and Vietnam War – all of which have come into essays I have written this year at university – were part of the syllabus I was taught at Surbiton at History GCSE and A-Level.
Of the eight essays I have written this term, by far the topics I have found most enjoyable have been President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ (a series of economic reforms in the 1930s), the African-American rights struggle (which spans virtually the entire period – not just the 1950s and 1960s, as is commonly assumed), and the fragmentation of religion in America.
An important theme which lecturers and supervisors here stress with regards to modern American history is the link between domestic and foreign politics. One cannot study Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’, for example, without first studying the worldwide financial downturn that began in 1929. Similarly, it is impossible to understand the course of the Vietnam War without looking at the backlash against it in America as the fighting continued without significant progress. Even the civil rights movement, often seen as a purely domestic movement, has important international aspects, notably the fact that American racism harmed the country’s image abroad at a time when America was involved in a struggle with the Soviet Union for global influence. Looking at both the domestic and the foreign aspects of any topic therefore provides a more nuanced view of what is being studied.

Whatever subject tickles your fancy, there will be a podcast for you from a top university. Don’t be afraid. Dig in!

There are a number of brilliant websites which publish podcasts and lectures from top universities like Oxford, Cambridge, UCL and Yale. I could spend hours listening to experts discussing their topics, and I would hope you would be similarly excited at the opportunity to hear such high level, academic discussion. Whatever your interests, there will be something  here for you, and it’s a fantastic way to enhance your subject knowledge.

Have fun exploring the links below – you definitely won’t be disappointed!

Oxford University


Cambridge University











Academic Earth


Battle of Ideas – some brilliant stuff – see this from 2011


Exploring Neurological Disorders – The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat

By Sacha Eyles-Owen, Year 10

This book, by Oliver Sacks, explores the stories of some neurological disorders. There are case studies of people who are unable to recognise their own limbs and others of sufferers of severe agnosia (the inability to recognise objects and people for what they are- literally).

Who would enjoy/benefit from reading this book?

I particularly enjoyed reading this book as I have an interest in neurology, more specifically with those disorders that affect our perception of objects and people- hence why the title intrigued me. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to find out about the lesser known side of neurology, by reading case studies in language that can be easily understood. It may be helpful if you are unsure as to whether neurology- or medicine generally- is a subject which may interest you. This book also deals with the effects of a neurological disorder on a more personal level, also looking at how a person life and relationships are affected, so may also interest someone interested in looking into the effects of ill mental health.

How is it structured? Does this structure make it easier to read?

This book is split into four sections: losses, excesses, transports and the world of the simple. Each section contains short chapters (summarised case studies), each relating to the section in which it has been placed. Since each chapter is an individual story, it gives you the ability to jump around and pick out a chapter which you think you may enjoy more than others. This might be an advantage if you prefer small chunks of writings as opposed to large ones, however it can make the book easy to pick up and put down again rather than reading the book as a hole. I would recommend reading it as you would a normal book- from cover to cover- as some of the stories which I thought would not interest me actually did. If I had not read it like this I would have been very tempted to skip certain chapters.

What was your favourite chapter?

As I have already mentioned I have a fascination with disorders affecting our perception of objects and people. After reading this book I can now tell you that the disorder is called visual agnosia, it is the condition which affected the man after whom the book is named- the man who mistook his wife for a hat. Named only as Dr. P, the first story in the book describes his struggles with the identification of both the animate and inanimate objects (although primarily the animate), whereas others with the same condition struggled only with one. As I have never researched visual agnosia, the book partly explained the condition but also how certain traits of the condition can have an effect on a person’s life and relationships.

Do you have a favourite quote(s) from the book? If so why?

My favourite quotes are:

“If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost a self—himself—he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it.”


“But the saddest difference between them was that Zazetsky, as Luria said, ‘fought to regain his lost faculties with the indomitable tenacity of the damned,’ whereas Dr P. was not fighting, did not know what was lost. But who was more tragic, or who was more damned — the man who knew it, or the man who did not?”

I like these quotes because the first made me question what it means to lose your sense of self, which tends to lead to a more philosophical debate. But it also made me wonder whether it would be better to lose your sense of self and not to know what you lost, or to know what you lost but know it. This exact thought was then written later on in the book and is the second quote. This more philosophical undertone to this book separates it from other similar books, because it is not purely about the medical side of the conditions and their causes.

What other books you would recommend to those who have read, and enjoyed, this book?

From an academic point-of-view ‘The Private Life of The Brain’ by Susan Greenfield explains some of the complex chemistry happening in our brains when we have different experiences of emotions. However, unlike other book on similar subjects, it should not be necessary to sit beside a computer to look up every other word of jargon. Also, Susan Greenfield has a written style that is simple and very straight-forward, which is especially useful when you are trying to understand to of the more complex ideas in the book and overall makes for a read which is fascinating without making your brain hurt.

‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ is book which tells the little known story of the woman who was behind one of a great step forward in medical science- being able to cultivate cells in a lab. This has led to many discoveries about cancer, viruses, cloning, genetic mapping and the effects of the atomic bomb. Now her cells are bought and sold throughout the world, even though she never knowingly gave her consent and she (and her family) never received a penny of the millions generated from the production and distribution of her cells. The book also explores the bioethics behind using the cells and the legal battles over whether we really own our own bodies and the stuff we are made of.

Other interesting books I have read less recently:

  • ‘The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time’ as a play or a book
  • ‘Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers’ by Mary Roach

The Spirit Catches You And  You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

Q&A Rose and Ella’s summer: Psychology, Scotland, Darwin and Literature…a bit of everything. Why not?

Q&A by Ella Kline and Rose Grossel, Year 10

Q: So what did you do over the summer holidays?

Ella: I visited the Wellcome Institute to see two exhibitions about psychology. The first exhibition was the A- Z of the Human Condition. This explored all aspects of human life and different viewpoints on them. The collection of works and interactive experiments ranged from putting a sticker onto the country where you live to great writing by Ancient Roman psychologists explaining their theories about how the brain works. Furthermore the second exhibition covered how social pressure has shaped modern medicine. This exhibition exemplified the enormous influence which the media has on us and medicine.

Rose: Over the summer holidays, I went on holiday to Scotland and whilst there became fascinated in all things Scottish; in particular the country’s literature and history. One of the things that interested me most were the frictions between Scotland and England, uprisings and rebellions in the past and the referendum which was taking place at the time I was there. I visited Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and Scone Palace, all of which were beautiful as well as being steeped in history. From the walls of Stirling Castle, you could see the Wallace Memorial, built after William Wallace’s great victory against the English at Stirling Bridge. On display at Edinburgh Castle were the Honours of Scotland and the Stone of Scone and at Scone Palace the site of the coronation of many a Scottish king could be seen. As well as this, in Edinburgh I visited a Tenement House in the Old Town, what was until recently Edinburgh’s slum. Then in contrast to that I went to a Georgian House in Charlotte Square, part of the Moray Estate built for the fashionable rich of the 18th century to escape the grime and cramped conditions of the Old Town. I also visited the Writers Museum in Edinburgh which focused on the lives and work of Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. One of the items in the collection was a manuscript of Robert Burn’s poem ‘Scots wha hae’ which I found very interesting as it focuses on the uprisings of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce against the English.

Q: What did you do to follow this up?

Ella: From the bookstore in the Wellcome Institute I purchased an extremely fascinating book called ‘Introducing Evolutionary Psychology’, written by Dylan Evans and Oscar Zarate. Evolutionary Psychology combines cognitive psychology with evolutionary biology making it an extremely interesting topic as we are now studying evolution in biology. This book opened my eyes to a new outlook about Evolution. It discussed not only Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution but combined how our mind, and the actions we do because of this, has developed over thousands of years to adapt to live in social groups.

Rose: To follow this up I watched the BBC documentary ‘The Secret History of Our Streets’. Each of the free episodes was about an archetypal street in a particular Scottish city. One focused on Duke Street in Glasgow, the longest road in Britain, another about the Fittie Squares in Aberdeen and the last, which I found the most fascinating as I had recently visited a house in Charlotte Square, about the Moray Estate in Edinburgh. After watching ‘The Secret History of Our Streets’, I sent off for a booklet made in conjunction with the series by the Open University which focused on class divides, poverty and the influence this has on property which was fascinating. I also kept up to date with the news on the Referendum and did some more research into Scottish rebellions against the English in the past. I read an article in a magazine about William Wallace’s rebellion against Edward I in 1297 and although his uprising isn’t really comparable to the Scottish referendum it was still interesting to see how tensions between the Scottish and the English have gone back a long time. As well as that, I have just started reading Waverly by Sir Walter Scott which I am loving, although it has taken time to get into his writing style. It is a brilliant adventure story and I would really recommend reading it. It is also the first historical novel ever written, it is set in the time of the Jacobite rebellions in the 18th century.

Q: Did you find this interesting? Why?

Ella: I found this book thoroughly engaging in all ways, it was a graphic, non-fiction book discussing different psychologists’ opinions and theories. This book, I found, was particularly interesting because it had theories that could explain why we do things in everyday situations and how the decisions made by early humans and other animals living in social groups has changed who survived. The main theory I found extremely indulging as it stated our mind was like a computer programme and the different ‘modules’ of our brain were like the computer programmes that are run whenever needed.

Rose: I found this extremely interesting because I love History and English and the history of Scotland is so romantic and unbelievable you do sometimes doubt its reality, or just think what brilliant stories it makes; for example, it is said that Sir Walter Scott rediscovered the Honours of Scotland in a locked chest in a forgotten room in Edinburgh Castle after they had been lost for over a century because they had been hidden after Scotland united with England!

Moral Questions about Desertion in WW1


By Katie Lancaster, Year 10

During the summer, I visited the Poperinge death cells and execution post in Belgium, utilised in the First World War. When the British Army went into action in the summer of 1914, a number of offences were punishable with death. This included mutiny, cowardice before the enemy, self-inflicted wounds, disobedience of a lawful order, desertion or attempted desertion, sleeping or being drunk on post, striking a superior officer, casting away arms or ammunition in the presence of the enemy, leaving a post without orders, abandoning a position, and communicating with or in any way assisting the enemy. Once caught and trialled before court martial, soldiers found guilty spent their last night in jail of the town hall before being shot at dawn by a 12 man firing squad. In Poperinge, you can still visit the very cells in which the soldiers were held and the execution pole at which they were shot as an emblematic site for reflection and remembrance. As this is a subject I am extremely interested in, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to visit these places.

Upon arrival, there was an instantly sombre atmosphere to the place, it felt strange to stand on the very spot that so many terrified soldiers would have, awaiting their death. Between 1914 and 1918, the British Army identified 80,000 men with what would later be known as shellshock and what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. Many could not stand the thought of being on the front line any longer and deserted; however this resulted in many of their executions. The horrors that men from all sides endured while on the front line can only be imagined. Inside the death cells, carvings and engravings can still be seen on the walls, although not all of these go back to the time of the First World War, it is quite easy to identify those drawn by prisoners at the time. I was surprised to see this, and one which particularly moved me was ‘soon I will see the face of God’. Amongst mostly violent and angry messages, this stood out. I thought about how it must have felt to sit in this tiny cell, knowing you are about to face death for a crime, which you could quite possibly have not committed. I think it is close to impossible to truly understand what so many soldiers went through. In one of the cells, a video was played, showing an actor (dressed as a soldier of the time) waiting to be shot at dawn. Despite there being no sound to this video, I found it hugely thought provoking, as there were moments during the video in which the actor just sat down and cried. By making the concept of the death cells something more visual for the everyday visitor, it made the experience all the more moving – I think this was the intended effect. It is particularly poignant to think that almost all of the boys and men who enrolled did not know what there were going to experience in warfare, unlike soldiers today.

The visit raised multiple moral and ethical questions for me. Was it really fair to take away the life of someone suffering for something as serious as shellshock? Was it necessary to force them to wait all night in terror of what they knew was about to happen? Of course, it was vital to have as many soldiers as possible in our armies in order to gain success. However, if it were me, the idea of not being able to leave would be terrifying – especially given some of the horrific things I’d have to see and experience as a soldier. The soldiers executed for cowardice due to shellshock could’ve been treated and given the opportunity to live happy lives, by executing them the Army is still losing just as many soldiers and also taking away this possibility of recovery. On the other hand, I can understand that, had there not been a punishment for desertion, many soldiers would take advantage of this and result in the collapse of the discipline of the British Army. It would’ve been extremely difficult to consider the mental health of each individual in the Army and still keep complete order.

My visit endorsed my previous understanding of executions World War I and developed my knowledge further. I would recommend visiting the death cells at Poperinge as it is a truly moving and unforgettable experience. Although we may never have complete understanding of what it was like to be a soldier in the war, places such as this are imperative in extending what knowledge and understanding it is possible to achieve. Especially in the centenary of the First World War, it was very rewarding to be able to put myself in the shoes of those who experienced it first hand.



Need help preparing for Oxbridge Engineering interviews?


Developed by Professor Richard Prager, Queens’ Fellow and Head of Cambridge University School of Technology, this website helps pupils solve multi-stage questions, with videos to give top tips. It allows pupils to develop the skills that Admissions Tutors will want to see at interview, as well as the skills you will use as an undergraduate engineer.

The website says:

“Our aim is to teach you to solve engineering problems using fundamental concepts; the kind of concepts you could be asked to discuss in an undergraduate admissions interview, and that you will use as an undergraduate engineer. We do not follow any particular syllabus or provide answers in the style to suit UK public exam boards. Nevertheless, most of the techniques will be familiar to students studying maths and physics A-levels in the UK. Problem solving is all about practice; the more problems you solve the better you will get, so let’s get started!

Big Bang! Red Shift and CMBR

By Scarlett Walker, Year 10

I have always been fascinated by the topic of ‘space’ when learning about it in Physics and when watching previous ‘Horizon’ documentaries, but visiting the Space Museum extended my interests further. I learnt that visible light sources such as stars are moving away from the earth. As this happens their wavelength increases. ‘Red shifted’ is the term used to describe this, because red is the colour in white light with the longest wavelength (white light is made up of a variation of colours). If stars and planets around us are being Red shifted it means that everything is moving away from us and the universe is expanding. This is evidence for the Big Bang Theory which states that the universe started with an explosion and has been expanding ever since. Redshift confirms that the universe is expanding so we can rewind and say that the universe was once all squashed into one point from which the explosion happened. Another piece of evidence which supports the Big Bang Theory is CMBR (Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation). Two men named Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson realised that if the Big Bang was real that when atom were formed a glowing light would have also been released. Because the universe is supposedly always expanding, the light which is actually ‘high-energy gamma radiation’ would be red shifted by a factor of 1000. Therefore the light’s wavelength will have increased over time. The two scientists discovered this light which is now CMBR. How the light was discovered is whole another story! This knowledge fascinated me as previously I had not really known of any scientific evidence for the Big Bang and so when learning about Redshift and CMBR I found myself starting to believe that this is really how the universe was formed- rather than looking at things in a more philosophical light. It also got me thinking ‘will the universe expand forever?’ I soon found answers to this in the museum; Scientists seem to have concluded that it will not- In fact the expansion of the Universe will cause it to be destroyed. There are two fates of the universe- ‘The Big Yawn’ or ‘The Big Crunch’. The Big Yawn states that if as the universe continues to expand galaxies are moving too fast, the force of gravity cannot pull them back together. Therefore the universe will expand forever until all the stars die out and so does everything else. OR the opposite will happen. If the galaxies are moving too slowly, eventually they will turn around and come back together. This is effectively the reverse of the Big Bang, everything will be crunched together and die. Hearing of the fate of the universe according to science frightened me. It almost seems impossible that one day Human Life will not exist and nor will the universe; Space will just be an infinite area of nothingness, a scenario I struggle to get my head around. However, I also found myself fascinated by the way in which scientists are able to predict an event which will happen millions of years into the future and re-wind back to events like the Big Bang.

After my trip, I decided to extend my knowledge further. I recently watched a few episodes of TV documentary series, presented by Professor Brian Cox called ‘The Human Universe’. In the latest episode, I discovered that scientists can predict the future of the earth because of Isaac Newton’s Laws of relativity, which make the laws of physics like a time machine. If the Universe is like a clockwork system – planets orbit stars, stars orbit galaxies and galaxies fall through an infinite space- we can use knowledge of the present to predict the future. For example scientists predict that in five billion years the sun will explode destroying earth and all the life on it, even before the universe is destroyed. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The extinction of Human’s is part of evolution by natural selection, it will leave a space for new organisms to evolve, like Humans did when the Dinosaurs became extinct. Brain Cox, on the other hand argued that he believes we don’t have to become extinct. This is because we are different, we are an intelligent life form possibly one of the only ones in our whole galaxy; we are rare and worthy of protection. If we continue to use this intelligence to explore and experiment we can possibly save ourselves. In 2013 an Asteroid unexpectedly hit Russia; We can predict when such things will happen, but the course of Nature is chaotic a tiny nudge can change everything. For example the course of this asteroid may not have been towards earth, but a slight change in Nature caused the course to change, so that it did head for earth; really anything could happen. However, we develop new technologies to get us out of these situations.

NASA sent out a Space Craft called ‘Rosetta’ (with no passengers on board). It wondered through space for 31 months, travelling four billion miles, until in January 2014 it awoke when it came into contact with a commit. In the following months of August and September it spent it’s time scanning the commit for a place to land. This week it will release a probe to attach itself to the surface of the commit. After the landing we will be able to gather information, to expand our understanding of commits and test our ability to mount an asteroid, if we ever needed to. So perhaps there is hope for human life if the earth is about to be destroyed? I found this episode highly interesting because I saw things from another perspective. Generally, it is known that all Human life will become extinct, but Brian Cox contradicted this, teaching me new ideas that I had never even thought of before. He also taught me that Human Life is far more capable than we assume; If you look at how far we have come from the past where things like electricity would never have been thought possible, it is highly likely that in the future the impossible will become possible. Maybe technology will be so advanced that Human life can be saved from death.


Julia H finds out about String Theory and Standard Model

One of the things I did this summer, was to read the book “It is Not Rocket Science”by Ben Miller. It dips into many different areas of sciences such as relativity, the science of taste and the human genome. Personally, I really enjoyed reading about particle physics, one of the reasons being was it was like nothing we had learnt at school. I particularly enjoyed reading about how scientists disagree on whether the Standard model or String theory is the correct theory of everything and how they are doing many different experiments to prove their theories (such as searching for the Higgs Boson in the Large Hadron Collider). What I found really interesting, was that the standard model was quite a traditional theory whereas string theory was very unconventional and included lots of new ways at looking at and understanding particles; I also began to understand why many young scientists favoured the String theory as it is a refreshing new approach to particle physics. Another thing I found astonishing was that in String theory to understand why Gravity is such as weak force, they say that whilst most forces are stuck to four dimensions, gravity is free to leak into other spatial dimensions resulting in its apparent weakness. After reading this book and really enjoying its subjects, I decided to watch “The fabric of the Cosmos” which is a documentary about Quantum Mechanics. This was again fascinating and offered me a whole new way of understanding and looking at the world. To gain a more in depth understanding of particle physics, Quantum Mechanics and physics I have started reading Warped Passages which alongside explaining important theories is also providing an insight into current scientific debates.

By Julia Hussein, Year 10