Wycombe Abbey Scientists Visit Japan

During the summer break, five Sixth Form pupils visited Japan to expand their scientific knowledge and to stretch their curiosity and mathematical skills, whilst also experiencing full immersion in a totally different culture.

In preparation for the trip, we attended a briefing weekend at the Rikkyo Japanese School near Horsham. We met other British students and became great friends as we were put into groups to work on our radioactivity knowledge and to learn a little about Japanese culture.

On our first day in Japan, we visited the Tokyo Museum where we learnt about the incredible history of the city and its achievements in science, which was brilliant! We then spent some time exploring Tokyo and getting our first real taste of Japanese life and culture. Our new Japanese student friends, who accompanied us on the trip, took us to a tiny noodle restaurant just a few streets away from an impressive Japanese temple. The next day began with a scenic train ride that took us from the glistening skyscrapers of Tokyo to the rolling hills of the Japanese countryside. On arrival in Iwaki, we started our research projects and were treated to a series of welcoming introductory speeches. After the speeches, we headed to Iwaki Aquarium where we attended fascinating talks on plastic pollution in the ocean and about a fish called coelacanths, also known as ‘living fossils’. We then explored the aquarium seeing rays, jellyfish, seals, and puffins.

After settling into the hotel for the evening, Bento boxes were served for dinner and we started to chat and get to know each other better. Although conversations were tricky to start with, due to the language barrier, we soon learnt to adjust our vocabulary and speech so both parties could understand one another.

On Monday morning, we left Iwaki and drove to Fukushima, where we visited the Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum. We were shown a short video which contextualised the disaster and gave us some background information on the power plant and the events of 2011. It also taught us about the recovery and revitalisation efforts that are still being made in Fukushima. The museum also contained photographs and videos of the aftermath of the nuclear disaster and preserved items that were impacted. This brought home the enormous damage and loss of life due to the earthquake and tsunami and was a profoundly moving experience.

The next day, we visited Tohoku University for the Science Workshops opening ceremony. There were speeches from members of the university, teachers and students. Dr Dawber even spoke a few words of Japanese! In the afternoon, we went on a boat excursion to visit the surrounding islands. Over the next three days at the science workshops, we collaborated with Japanese students in our chosen project groups on topics ranging from disaster management to sustainable batteries and DNA. It was a privilege for us to be able to gain hands-on experience from experts in their respective fields, and we enjoyed working with advanced laboratory equipment such as confocal and scanning electron microscopes. On the last day, we were given the opportunity to present our findings, which was daunting at first but extremely rewarding in the end.

As our program ended, we found we had learnt so much from each other and made so many fun memories. It was an honour to be part of such an amazing program, which not only allowed us to further our scientific interests but also to share cultural differences with our fellow Japanese students. We forged friendships that will hopefully last forever. The trip was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Livi, Alex, Arshia, Janelle and Jade
Upper Sixth

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