September 30th, 2011
Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, one of the pioneers of genetic fingerprinting, talked to the Stephen Hawking Society to begin the new academic year. Professor Jeffreys studied Biochemistry and Genetics at Oxford and now lectures in Genetics at Leicester University. The talk proved very popular, drawing an audience from other schools too, that the BLR was overwhelmed and the New Hall was used.
Sir Jeffreys had the flash of inspiration that an individuals unique DNA could be used to solve problems of identification. ‘Snips’, or Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms if you want to be accurate, are bases in the genetic code which show variation between human beings. Therefore, human minisatellites, or sections of repeating DNA where SNPs are present, were originally used to profile the genes. The technique solved a case within a mere six months of its invention, and so DNA identification in the courts began in earnest.
The technique was also used to assess the level of inbreeding that threatened to severely reduce biodiversity amongst the endangered Waldrapp ibis. Professor Jeffreys founded Cellmark, which has been involved countless legal cases, where DNA identification has been instrumental to conviction or acquittal.
Currently, the discovery of Polymerase Chain Reactions and microsatellites have refined the chance of a false coincidental match to a miniscule 1 in 10 million and the details of over 5.5 million people are on the DNA database worldwide. Professor Jeffreys’ monumental discovery has left an impressive legacy, and his talk set the bar high for forthcoming lectures.
Report by Alex Shavick
September 22nd, 2011
A group of A-level music students filled the library with song and melody during their lunchtime concert, in what can only be called a great success for the department. There was fantastic variety in the concert, from Chris Springthorpe’s polished and moving cello piece to the sharp improvisation by Ben Zacaroli and Louis Grant on bass and drums respectively. There were outstanding instrumentals across the board and some very impressive vocal work from James Mohajer and Max Thomas, performing renditions of The A Team by Ed Sheeran and Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley. Michael Bird’s sinuous guitar accompaniment to the latter was flawless and played with great finesse. After such a big success, the audience were pleased to hear Mr Stout’s promises that there would be many more concerts like it in the months to come.
The lunchtime concert also served as a warm-up for the evening’s Young Musicians Concert, featuring Joe Davies OA, playing cello pieces by Beethoven, Britten and Prokofiev, accompanied by Jennifer Hughes on piano. This was the first public concert for the new Steinway grand piano and Jennifer Hughes fully demonstrated the quality of the instrument alongside Joe Davies’ sonorous cello.
Report by Maddy Taylor; Photo by Michael Slater
September 22nd, 2011
Multi-talented writer Joe Craig came into School to talk to First and Second form boys about his career and experiences that have inspired him to write. The author of the best selling Jimmy Coates books and the recently published thriller Lifters, gave a very entertaining talk about his early working experiences and the choices he made which led to his work as both a musician and a writer. He was first excited by the Harry Potter books, but ‘hated wizards’, so decided to concentrate on adventure and thrillers. Joe Craig has also worked as musical director of major theatre productions, composer and writer of film screenplays, so his energetic talk give the boys plenty of ideas and prompted a good number of interesting questions. Many went away clutching copies of the Jimmy Coates novels and the library is already reporting an increase in lending.
September 16th, 2011
The spectacular success of pupils sitting the summer’s public exams was celebrated at the Prizegiving Ceremony in the Abbey, as well as the achievements of pupils throughout the School. Prizes were awarded not only for academic success, but also for contributions to the wider life of the School.
A theme of the evening was a consideration of the consequences of actions and decisions, looking in particular at young people taking responsibility in all aspects of their lives. It was a subject explored by all three speakers, including the guest of honour, Professor Quintin McKellar CBE, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire.
The audience of parents also heard from the Headmaster the exciting news that the School has just completed the purchase of Aquis Court, the large building currently occupied by KPMG adjacent to the School’s Lower Orchard.
This offers an exciting opportunity to address some challenges posed by our existing facilities and in particular to relieve pressure on a number of teaching areas and social spaces.
It will allow the School to do still more excellently what it already does very well indeed and to enhance the quality of life for both pupils and staff without sacrificing the essential character of the place. The purchase has been funded from the School’s own resources, supported by prudent borrowing.
The Headmaster stressed that he believes the School is at or near its optimum size and there is no intention of using the acquisition of Aquis Court as an opportunity to increase the size of the School, or change its essential ethos. Rather, it will provide the firmest possible basis to go forward with the existing Development Plans, confident in the knowledge that the Headline Projects are not pursued at the expense of the basics.
September 8th, 2011
In a major boost to its Music Department, St Albans School is preparing to become only the second All-Steinway School in the country. This process has just begun, with the delivery of eight Steinway pianos, which are judged to be the best instruments that money can buy.
Replacing all the School’s pianos is no easy task, however, as the Music Department’s practice rooms are on the top floor of the old School House building, reached by two narrow staircases. ‘Each piano weighs in at around 300 kilos,’ said Director of Music Mick Stout, ‘and each one has to go up a small staircase. The old ones have to go down the staircase, too.’ The department’s former pianos have been distributed among staff and pupils.
All piano-playing students in the School will benefit from the new instruments, seven of which will be in the practice rooms. A Steinway Model ‘B’ Grand Piano will be housed in the School Library, where it will be used in concerts. Currently teaching piano in the School are Lady Rosalind Runcie, Matthew Woodward OA and Jamie Salisbury, who specialises in jazz piano. They too are eagerly looking forward to using the new instruments.
A grand inaugural concert featuring the grand piano will take place in the School Library on 17th November, which will feature professional soloists as well as pupils.
September 5th, 2011
Seven Upper Sixth students prepared for a season’s debating by attending an early debating training event at Haileybury School. The day’s training involved a workshop on British Parliamentary style debating with an English Speaking Union debating mentor in the morning, followed by two excellent practice debates in the afternoon. It was an excellent opportunity for the students to discuss some of the dramatic news events from the summer, including the riots, as well as a chance to prepare for upcoming competitions. With their skills now finely honed, we look forward to the debating teams improving further on their strong performances over the last few years.