QE enjoys unprecedented success in national biology competition

Former QE School Captain Nigethan Sathiyalingam has reached the final 16 of a prestigious national biology competition which attracted more than 4,200 entries.

Nine QE boys, including Nigethan, achieved gold medals in the opening round of this year’s British Biology Olympiad – all from Year 13, except Neil Lenus, of Year 12. Five pupils, including Nigethan, qualified to go on to Round 2, out of 155 students nationwide. This represents QE’s greatest-ever success in the competition. Among the 18 QE Round 1 entrants, there were also three silvers, two bronzes and three boys who were ‘highly commended’.

After his strong performance in Round 2, Nigethan, who is in Year 13 and studying for A-levels in Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics, will now compete for a place in the four-strong team that will represent the UK at the International Olympiad in Switzerland.

“Over the last year, the Olympiad has pushed me to go into more depth with my biology reading and study, to understand new concepts and draw links between different topics, while appreciating smaller details,” he says. “Working towards tests has been hectic, but I’ve really enjoyed working as part of a team, and pushing each other to do better.

“Ultimately, the Olympiad has been real, challenging exciting biology, and it has really complemented and enhanced my experience of the A-level Biology course, while giving me a taster of what university-level science might be like.”

Biology teacher, Anne Rutherford, says: “Nigethan has a genuine interest in every aspect of biology and is keen to not just absorb information but to understand why processes occur. He loves the interlinking nature of biology and relishes the opportunity to discuss the multiple hypotheses that explain a biological dilemma.”

The QE boys have been training for two years, with preparation sessions every Thursday. Boys have produced presentations, discussion topics and tests to build up the knowledge base and skill sets required for the Olympiad.

The British Biology Olympiad is run by the Society of Biology and aims to challenge and stimulate students with an interest in the subject. Round 1 of the competition was a two-hour multiple-choice paper taken in schools. Five boys qualified for Round 2 but all except Nigethan were unable to compete due to commitments during the summer which excluded them from further selection. The five included Movin Abeywickrema, who achieved one of the highest Round 1 scores ever. Round 2, a 90-minute written paper, was also taken in School.

The final round takes place at the University of Reading in April, with the results from that used to make the international team selection. The round consists of three days of intensive practical tests in the university’s laboratories as well as a demanding written examination. It is organised by a small group of volunteers supported by Dr Amanda Hardy, Schools and Colleges Officer at the Society of Biology, and staff at the University of Reading. The volunteers are full-time and retired teachers who devote a great deal of time to organising the competition.

Dr Andrew Treharne, who chairs the group of volunteers which organises the competitions, says: “The record number of participants in this year’s Olympiad makes it all the more impressive that Nigethan has achieved a place at the finals. I wish them luck as they compete with the other finalists for a place in the team representing the UK this summer.”

Awards from the British Biology Olympiad will be presented at the Royal Society on 27th June.

Training for the international team will take place for two days in July, immediately prior to squad’s departure on 11th July. The international competition takes place from 14th-21st July.

The British Biology Olympiad, along with Biology Challenge, forms a Special Interest Group of the Society of Biology. Both competitions are supported by funding from BBSRC, the Biotechnology and Biological and Sciences Research Council.