Lord Winston launches new QE lecture series with inspiring talk

Renowned scientist and medic Lord Winston inaugurated a new lecture series for younger boys at Queen Elizabeth’s School.

Boys from Years 7-10 packed the Shearly Hall with their teachers to hear The Right Honourable Professor The Lord Winston deliver the first of what will be a series of termly enrichment lectures, which will feature a range of speakers. A parallel programme has also been developed for the senior years. The initiative is being led by QE’s Head of Academic Enrichment, Nisha Mayer.

Lord Winston’s lecture covered many themes in Science, with reference to his own achievements and career. Lord Winston spoke without notes or visual aids in a natural conversational style; he thoroughly engaged the boys, making the lecture interactive and asking them many questions.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “What an excellent inaugural guest he was! Lord Winston delivered a fascinating and inspiring lecture; we were honoured to welcome him here.”

Born in London, Robert Winston graduated from The London Hospital Medical School in 1964 and is well known as an expert in human fertility and as a scientist, writer, broadcaster and politician. His father died as a result of medical negligence when Robert was just nine, which formed part of his motivation for his eventual choice of career.""

The holder of innumerable awards, including the Faraday Medal from the Royal Society, he has written many books, for both adults and children.

His lecture at QE included the following:

•             It is important that scientific research is done for its own sake, as we never know where it will lead. For example, the science behind lasers was discovered by Albert Einstein in the early 1900s, but lasers as we know them were not developed until the 1960s. Applications of lasers that we are now very familiar with, including spectroscopy, laser surgery and barcode technology, were not really developed until the 1990s, demonstrating how there can be unpredictable benefits to scientific research;

•             However, there will also always be negative side effects of scientific developments. Lord Winston discussed the benefits of aeroplane technology to society, and then asked the audience to name an unintended negative social consequence. The boys listed disbenefits including pollution, climate change and accidents. But Lord Winston broadened their thinking to encompass the spread of infectious disease, such as aeroplanes being responsible for Ebola cases breaking out around the world;""

•             Lord Winston then talked about his pioneering work on embryos and in particular the diagnosis of genetically inherited diseases. He led the IVF team that pioneered pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which identifies defects in human embryos. He remarked that everyone in the hall had at one time been invisible to the naked eye. He got the boys to rub their hands together and on their blazers, and then clap. He said that the invisible skin particles that as a result had flown up into the air – and then been breathed in by the boy sitting next to them! – were actually larger than a three-day-old, eight-cell embryo, the sort that Lord Winston had worked on. At this stage, the embryos’ cells are undifferentiated, that is ‘stem cells’.

Lord Winston asked the audience to name a genetic disorder; one Year 9 pupil named Huntington’s Chorea. There are about 7,000 known genetic disorders, said Lord Winston, most of them quite rare. We all inherit many dozen genetic mutations from our parents, but most of them do not manifest themselves.

•             Lord Winston said that each boy in the hall had a brain of exactly the same size and shape as Einstein – we know this because his brain was removed and analysed after his death! – so each boy had the potential to contribute something great to society.

Lord Winston commented privately to the Headmaster afterwards on how impressive the boys were, praising them for answering questions eagerly and in a knowledgeable way.