On 3 March, over 25 students from Weston College in Weston-super-Mare attended the Evolution and Biosciences taster day as part of our Widening Participation programme. The programme aims to help students explore opportunities for the future and support their progression to higher education.

Professor Matthew Wills from the Milner Centre for Evolution started the day with a very interesting lecture about aliens, and what they could look like. He began by discussing the characteristics of living things, the distinguishing characteristic being the ability to pass on information in the form of DNA.

Matthew then took us back to the creation of life and explained the famous Miller-Urey experiment in which the Earth’s atmosphere was simulated to show organic compounds being formed spontaneously. To conclude, he analysed body structures of animals and linked it to convergent evolution.

Next, the school students rotated around in three workshops:

Dr Alex Jeffries led a workshop on phylogenetic trees and how to assemble a tree based on characteristics.
Professor Matthew Wills led a workshop on the evolution of the skull, and how to measure the cranial capacity of a skull. • Chris Vennard led a workshop on insects, amphibians and chameleons, showing students the stages of growth of Manduca moths and the incomplete metamorphosis of select locusts.

Watch a video with Chris explaining about his role as technician at the University's Insectarium.

Students also attended science communication activities held by master’s and PhD students. There were stalls on cancer and cell biology, antibiotic resistance and conservation and bees.

The day finished off with talks about placements, alumni connections, and the importance of biosciences in our modern world.