The world is teeming with life but human activity is affecting biodiversity and one culprit is chemical pesticides. At Swansea University, Stefan Gates explores the maths involved in scientific discovery with Professor Tariq Butt and Dr Minshad Ansari. They show him a unique trial of a naturally occurring fungus that is an environmentally friendly alternative to chemicals and they use maths to prove it is effective.
Stefan learns how they prepare test solutions of the fungus by measuring small volumes, using averages and standard form. They conduct the trial on little larvae called Galleria and we see how Minshad collects the data on how many have been killed by the fungus and presents the results on the concentration required for 50% mortality.
Stefan accompanies Minshad on a hunt for new fungus strains and then heads off to Dorothy Stringer High School in Brighton. There he follows a bird walk with a group of students who are collecting data on bird populations to see if the biodiversity is changing. He discusses the results for the first four years of the project with two students. Finally he leaves them planting saplings to attract butterflies and promote biodiversity in their area.
This clip could be used as an insight into scientific research, allowing students to see how scientists use maths when collecting and interpreting data. The class could discuss why it is important to be accurate when doing experiments, particularly when thinking about environmental issues.
Pupils could be asked why the scientists prepare the trial in sterile conditions, and why they repeat the processes and take averages. Then consider the school bird walk, and ask what factors the students in the clip need to take into account when collecting their data.
Standard form is used when looking at big and small numbers. Ask students to look out for the range of numbers used in the fungus trial, and find the biggest and smallest numbers. Why is it good to use standard form for these numbers? What benefits does this have for the scientists?
At Dorothy Stringer High School, the team also collect data from their pond and field, where they have been planting trees to attract the butterflies. Think about what longitudinal data they could gather about biodiversity from these environments. How could this be analysed and presented? In what ways might you collect longitudinal data in your school? How could you contribute to wider surveys on biodiversity?