The English International School, Padua


Padua is a brilliant place, full of prosecco and Italians and green trees and history. They’ve got the oldest medical school in the world, where my incredible mother once lectured, and Galileo got his astro-on in the physics department of the university. The old town is beautiful, full of narrow and cobbled winding streets, delicious espresso and IMO the best apples in Europe. I know you’re supposed to go to Italy and rave about pasta and pizza, but I’m telling you, their apples are through the roof. I spoke to year 9 and year 11 at the International School in Padua, adapting my PLEASE DO SCIENCE talk for the Italian audience. The prep/ research was interesting: Italians are much more likely to study science/ engineering at university, but they’re also some of the worst students in Europe at finishing their degrees. There’s not a formal ‘time limit’ on undergraduate studies, so some programs drag on for 7 or 8 years. The job prospects at the end aren’t great- Italy are currently experiencing a ‘brain drain’ of some of their most exceptional graduates. There’s a rich history of Italian science that is pretty inspirational, from their triumphs in the medical and astro arena to Fermi and Avogadro. The Italian cultural institute in London are working with the British Science Association to up their game in the public engagement arena, which is apt, as Italian scientists are the foundations of undergraduate physics (and chemistry programs).

So I’m over one thousand kilometres away from home and guess who I meet? A fellow South Hampstead High School alumnae. Even better, Joanna Wynbourne is teaching physics. So there I am spending all my life moaning about women in physics, and I’m invited to talk at a school in Italy, and the physics teacher went to my school. Maybe it’s not that bad after all? Or maybe South Hampstead is just awesome. You can download my slides for the talk here.

Aided by some slick wooden wheels and axles (courtesy of Amazon) the students built some impressive cars using lollipop sticks and straws, which zoomed down the sun-drenched running track. One made it over 9 metres. The year 11s are doing an ‘elective’, where they create their own science experiment, and one is building his own kit to test the Doppler Effect. These students are out of my league! I think it’s because they’re doing the international baccalaureate (IB). On the IB A-level age students cover general relativity, the Higgs particle, fluid dynamics- there is a certain creativity I can’t help but feel we’re missing in the UK.

I made some pretty good trophies the design engineers…


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