What is Biology about?
Biology is the easiest of the three sciences. Not because there is less to learn but because it is relevant to every aspect of your life. You don't have to be a brilliant mathematician nor do you have to deal in symbols all the time. You don't even have to learn lots of Latin names any more. You do, however, have to consider that Planet Earth just happens to be the right sized lump of semi-molten rock the right distance from the right sort of star, the Sun, that its temperature is such that most of the water is liquid, and that it is large enough to hold a gas envelope, the atmosphere. All these factors are prerequisites for 'life'. Biologists study the life that exists on Earth from minute viruses to gigantic Blue Whales. Strange as it may seem, all organisms can be investigated under the same headings, namely: How do they reproduce? How do they get from one place to another? How do they obtain their energy? And, finally, how do they avoid becoming an energy source for other organisms?
An understanding of the principles of Biology allows students to appreciate not only how our bodies work and how diseases stop them working, but also the fragility of life on Earth. In addition a Biologist understands the potential benefits and dangers of Genetic Engineering. Once you grasp the full significance of Biology be prepared to look at the world in a new light because some day a Biologist may change it beyond recognition. Even the world of business is turning to Biology. Apparently, the behaviour of Ant colonies gives a detailed insight into the activities of large global companies. High finance uses Evolutionary models to predict the movement of share prices. Biology-related activities represent the largest concentration of wealth in the world. The whole drug industry is dependent on Biology. Biologists can tell you whether or not bio fuels reduce CO2 emissions.
Whom does the subject suit?
To study Biology you must be prepared to ask difficult questions. You have to reject the bland unscientific statements and sound bites that the media throw at you and be prepared to appreciate all around you from a biological standpoint. It has to be said that you will have to learn a lot of detailed facts and apply them in an intelligent manner. If you are inquisitive about the world, you will love Biology.
What does the AS consist of?
The new specification deals with the basic principles in relation to their effect on well known systems. For instance, instead of just looking at the structure and function of carbohydrates we now look at how they are digested and absorbed in our gut. This, in relation to fat digestion obviously has many applications to the importance of 'diet'. –In unit 1 you will therefore look at the detaile structure of the ‘molecules of life’ such as carbohydrates, amino acids .and DNA. We can then use this information to look at different types of cell including their structure and function.. After the January exams work will start on Unit 2 (Biodiversity and physiology of body systems). In order to do this we will teach you the fascinating process of evolution and the basic relationships between the different groups of organisms You will learn how to use modern methods to determine the genetic similarities between apparently unrelated groups of animals and plants. With this knowledge you will be able to look at how different organisms solve the problems of gas exchange, transport and reproduction.. We no longer do coursework: instead, your practical skills will be assessed in a centre-run practical exam, for which we will prepare you.
What does the A2 consist of?
Many consider A2 much harder than the AS and whilst it does contain some difficult topics it is even more rewarding. Basically it continues some of the themes of the AS course. Unit 4, which deals with how organisms make high energy molecule in photosynthesis and how that energy is release to perform vital tasks in respiration. In addition to investigation microbiology and its application to the production of modern drugs we will also look at complex control systems that allow us to maintain our bodies in a state of dynamic equilibrium with particular reference to the kidney and nervous systems. This unit has some challenging exercises but once you appreciate the significance of what you are learning you will embrace the subject and make rapid progress. Unit 5 covers a fascinating range of topics that combine the previous work to explain some of the more recent developments in biology. We will look at the details of how DNA actually works in producing proteins (and don’t forget we are made of proteins) in addition to the details of and issues surrounding the ‘Human Genome Project). We get the chance to study the growing field ot gene therapy. This gives us the tools to look at the details of sexual reproduction in plants and humans and its significance in Evolution. You will then be able to pull all these skill together to explain the complexity of ecosystems and man’s effect on the biosphere from a scientific level. We can even make you interested in plant growth. As your knowledge and understanding increase so the questions make increasing use of previous work and this is also true of the A2 course work. By the second year you should understand 'how science works' and be able to apply these principles to new situations.
What trips are involved?
We run a number of local trips which include ecological surveys in the famous Wytham Woods and visits to some of the world-renowned University research departments. We also run residential field trips which many students enjoy greatly.
In addition to the above, we have an arrangement with Operation Wallacea, an organisation responsible for arranging research posts for A level students – in beautiful tropical locations.
Who will teach me?
Dr Shanti Bharatan, Jaimie Tarrell and Adam Johnstone are highly experienced teachers with similar and complementary styles. They have recently been joined by Dr Natalie Vlachakis who brings even more useful biochemical knowledge and technical insight to a growing department. You will be taught in small groups by these teachers. Outside of class Jaimie organises environmental awareness courses and mountain biking at the College, and Adam has written a widely used revision guide and contributes to the education programme of the European Space Agency and Shanti continues with her research interests
What might the subject lead onto?
A considerable number of our ex-students are now practising doctors, vets or dentists; others have gone on to study Marine Biology, Biotechnology, Pathology Toxicology, Pharmacology and forensics. The top universities and employers are looking for a science A level as an indication of analytical skills; so other Biology students choose degree subjects such as Economics and Business Studies. As everyone becomes aware of climate change, there is also a growing interest in degree courses on Environmental Sciences. Biology A level is an essential entry requirement for all these courses. So if you want to save the planet and/or make money Biology is the key to unlocking your academic and professional potential.