Year 9 Virtual Summer School competition winners

Congratulations to our Year 9 Virtual Summer School competition winners!

  • Laila, Harrow
  • Marina, Ealing
  • Manvir, Ealing
  • Aditi, Harrow
  • Maddie, Ealing
  • Kessia, Ealing
  • Elissa, Ealing
  • Thomas, Ealing
  • Iqra, Ealing
  • Mohammedbaqir, Ealing
  • Aaqib, Harrow
  • Charlize, Ealing
  • Rosie, Ealing

Each of you have won an Amazon voucher. This will be sent to the email address you provided in your competition cover sheet; please get in touch with us at if you haven’t received yours by the end of the week.

Below you can read the winning entries to each of the Year 9 competitions. The full details for each competition as well as the rest of the Virtual Summer School material continue to be available on the Year 9 timetable here.

Click here to read more about last week’s Virtual Summer School programme!

The power of Vesuvius in the ancient world

Do you think that we should carry on excavating sites like Pompeii to see what else we can discover, or should we focus on preserving what has already been found? Click here to review the full article and question about Vesuvius’ power in the ancient world.

1st place: Laila, Harrow

I think that we should focus on preserving what has already been found. I think this because if the discoveries are not preserved, they will be exposed to destructive forces like atmospheric pollution, looters, casual damage from tourists, frost and sunlight and rainwater damage and even the acid droppings of generations of pigeons.

When Vesuvius erupted, layers of volcanic ash settled over Pompeii and preserved anything underneath it. This natural preservation has meant that the remains of Pompeii have not been subjected to damage. When the site is excavated, the ash is removed and the discoveries come out of their protective barrier. They are no longer protected in the same way and are exposed to destructive forces.

If we continue to excavate sites like Pompeii and not focus on preserving what has already been found, the discoveries will end up being destroyed and will no longer be useful. The work that would have been put in to find these objects will be wasted as they will become damaged. I personally feel that it would be better to preserve what has already been discovered and be able to keep and have those discoveries, rather than continue excavating and all the previous discoveries become damaged and destroyed because we have continued to excavate.

It is undoubtedly fascinating to see new discoveries and this makes people want to dig up more. One third of Pompeii is still buried and if it is left like that, it will not decay further. Since It will not decay further, it can be left alone without fear of the remains that are still underneath being damaged in the years to come. Due to this, it would be better to protect the discoveries rather that excavating something that is protected as it can be left and is not immediate.

2nd place: Marina, Ealing

In 79 A.D. (nearly 2000 years ago), Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in a thick layer of volcanic ash. The destruction caused by the eruption is paradoxically linked with the preservation of the cities, and now they serve as a ‘time capsule’ to Roman life. For example, houses, inscriptions that advertise gladiatorial games and landmarks – such as the Pompeii amphitheatre – can be seen and give a detailed insight to Roman life. However, should we focus on making sure the excavated sites are protected or should we continue to unveil more information and artefacts by excavating further?

Early excavations of the sites were often uncoordinated and carried out by untrained workers, causing damage to the cities. For example, from 1748-1815, archeologists dug tunnels in the ash, displacing skeletons and relics and exposing the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum before sufficient equipment needed to study the site was available. Now, the city’s need for restoration has become apparent as the Worlds Monument Fund labelled the cities as endangered sites. Demonstrating this statement, a 12 metre long wall which surrounded the House of the Moralists collapsed due to heavy rain, preceding the collapse of the Schola Armaturarum (a building used by gladiators to train) in 2010. It can be said that human activity has caused more destruction to the sites than the volcano itself as the ash sealed the city from damage. Now, the cities have been exposed to heavy rain, frost, sunlight, pollution, looters and a large number of tourists. But should these inevitable factors of damage be considered mistreatment of the sites? Well, I think that these factors should be controlled, for example more maintenance and security should be appointed to help the cities to be preserved for future generations to study further.

As an argument for excavating further, the sections of Pompeii and Herculaneum that are still buried under ash hold more information, in the form of buildings and relics, that will help develop our understanding of the Roman period. For example, we used to think that Romans died young, due to the lack of advanced medication, however the study of the skeletons show that there were in fact many elderly and middle-aged Romans living in Pompeii. Furthermore, graffiti found on a Pompeian tomb dates to October, meaning that Mount Vesuvius couldn’t have erupted in August and perhaps erupted in November instead. Through excavations, we continue to learn from the past, for example we have utilized Roman engineering in the creation of bridges and aqueducts nowadays. Therefore, there is still much more to learn through the architecture or books that could be found in the remaining parts of the cities.

In conclusion, although further excavation of Pompeii and Herculaneum is tempting, I think preservation of the cities needs to be made a priority. This means that future generations can study the sites further, perhaps using newer technology to excavate the rest of the cities carefully.

If we don’t act now, we might lose the invaluable archeological sites, which fuel our understanding of the Roman period.

Finalist: Nathan, Harrow

Did volcanoes kill the dinosaurs?

The Earth is suffering a sort of mass extinction right now, and many species are in grave danger of extinction. It is often called the ‘6th mass extinction’, and unlike earlier mass extinctions, it is the result of human activities. How similar do you think the causes of this 6th extinction are to the effect of volcanoes in the pre-human past? Click here to review the full article and question about dinosaurs, mass extinctions and volcanic activity.

1st place: Manvir, Ealing

We are in the midst of the 6th mass extinction – the extinction of animals and plants ensued by human actions. Due to this, connecting the similarities between earlier mass extinctions and the 6th mass extinction is less arduous than it would be if we needed to rely solely on fossils and artifacts to collect data.

An example of recurrent earlier mass extinctions includes the extinction of the dinosaurs; dated back 66 million years ago. It is strongly believed that dinosaurs went extinct on account of volcanic eruptions and a meteorite. Volcanic eruptions are commonly found coincided with a disaster to form mass extinction. Due to the fact that volcanic eruptions generally emit smoke, virulent gasses (greenhouse gases such as excess carbon dioxide) are poured out into the atmosphere. The result of this meant that there would be a temperature rise that would mainly affect cold-blooded mammals, acid rain (the mixture of water vapour and sulphuric acid) which would destroy plant life, and organisms starved of oxygen – evident in the Vesuvius eruption in Pompeii. Consequently, extinctions (such as the flying pterosaurs) would be probable.

Similarly, the 6th mass extinction is predominately held by the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen, sulphur, and water vapour. The majority of these greenhouse gases are produced by human actions. Driving a car, for example, would create additional carbon dioxide than riding a bike. Greenhouse gases surround the Earth, preventing heat from escaping, therefore, radiating it back towards the Earth. This means that ice caps would defrost increasing the volume of water in the oceans, hence animals and plants are at the risk of flooding. Moreover, the rise in temperature means animals with disadvantageous alleles would not survive the temperature thus they would go extinct.

2nd place: Aditi, Harrow

Eruptions and transformations

Write a poem or short story using volcanic themes for inspiration. Try your hand at a sonnet (look at the ‘rules’ about structure and rhyme schemes here), a haiku, or make up your own form (see Brian Bilston for inspiration: could you write a poem in the shape of a volcano?) You may even want to turn your poem into a song. Your entry should showcase your creative process and can be in the form of written text, audio, video or visual art. Click here to review the full article and prompt.

1st place: Maddie, Ealing

Your vicious words spit and spew
Apologies an empty verse
Your fiery temperament, a volcanic hue
For nothing can escape a tyrant’s curse
Rage and rampage of oozing flame
Your heart a red-hot fire alight
Why oh why must we all be to blame
You kill it all, you, and your spite
Blissfully we ignored Earth’s warning song
Regardless of how she shook and cried
You laid dormant and content for so awfully long,
So, we carried on ploughing to our demise
Now all that we have left is to run, flee,
Petrified of your molten spree.

2nd place: Kessia, Ealing

2nd place entry, by Kessia
(click to expand)

Finalist: Charlize, Ealing

Telling the time with volcanoes

Can you think of reasons why we would want to date volcanic eruptions? Can you think of some things that tephrochronology can help us with? Click here to review the full article and question.

1st place: Elissa, Ealing

1. Can you think of reasons why we would want to date volcanic eruptions?

Dating volcanic eruptions is useful because we can create an accurate timeline of when the volcano has erupted, and how far apart the eruptions were. If the volcano is still active, this can help us predict when the volcano is likely to erupt again based on the distance between past eruptions.

It may also help us with the analysation of mass-extinctions due to volcanic activity. We can relatively accurately predict how long ago these mass-extinctions occurred, which can again help us predict when the next one may take place based on the distance between ones in the past. This may also be crucial in the prediction of the eruption of supervolcanoes, which will help us predict and prepare for when the next eruption might occur.

2. Can you think of some things that tephrochronology can help us with?

If we have dated the eruption, we can use the tephra in sedimentary layers to compare to the fossils found in the layers above and below. This helps us place that particular volcanic eruption in history, so we can tell what species were around at the time, if the volcanic eruption may have triggered a mass extinction and what species may have been wiped out. This can help us get an image of the time of the volcano, and the toll based on how many species we no longer find as fossils after that date.

We can also track this further, as tephra has a unique chemical signature based on the eruption it came from. This means we can see how species numbers and numbers of fossils compare across the area, as we have an accurate time-stamp across samples.

2nd place: Thomas, Ealing

Finalist: Adchaya, Ealing

Natural Disasters

Define a natural disaster and describe one way in which natural disasters have impacted on human civilisation, using an example. Depending on your interests, you may want to look at technologies that have been developed to help predict natural disasters, or art inspired by a natural disaster, or something else entirely. Click here to review the full task.

Kessia, Ealing

Natural disasters are one of the most captivating phenomena of our planet, something that we as humans may never be able to completely understand. They have the potential to wipe out all living organisms (KPg event) and create drastic changes to climate within seconds (‘The year without a summer’ 1816). However, the defining factor that makes natural disasters, disasters rather than natural events is the fact that they pose a threat to the standard ‘day to day patterns of life’. Examples of these include floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Initially, the negative consequences of natural disasters (destruction of property and loss of lives) may seem to greatly outweigh any positives. However, I believe that these disasters create a drive or ignite a spark of curiosity for those who have been affected or educated about them. The urge to gain a deeper understanding on natural disasters and use materials in new and different ways to mitigate the impact of natural disasters, as well as aid those who have been affected.

One of the inventions for disaster relief is the LuminAID portable solar light. It was inspired by the 2010 Haiti earthquake and is designed to provide light – an essential need after a disaster. This product has been highly successful: 15,000 lights have been distributed in more than 50 countries including Nepal and the Philippines (prone to natural disasters). LuminAID lights have also been purchased by people for everyday outdoor activities such as going on camping trips.

The famous American business magnate, John D Rockefeller, once said: “Try to turn every disaster into an opportunity”. I believe the captivating phenomena – natural disasters have allowed human civilisation to do just that. A way to develop new technologies to be used in everyday life and during difficult times. A reason. A drive.

Marina, Ealing

A natural disaster is an event caused by a natural process that causes a major disruption to people’s every-day lives through fatalities, property damage or illnesses or injuries. Although natural disasters might cause destruction and fatalities, they also allow people to explore and understand our planet in further depth and develop methods of coping with these events. For example, technology has been invented to monitor earthquakes and volcanoes, vaccines have been created to fight epidemics and we have even learnt about the lives of Romans thanks to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. My essay is going to explore what we have learnt from natural disasters and how human activity has an effect on natural disasters.

The destructive nature of natural disasters have led humans to develop methods of protection by studying these events. In 79 A.D, Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in volcanic ash. It is one of the most well-known eruptions of all time. A Roman author called Pliny described the eruption to be ‘like a pine rather than any other tree… I imagine because it [lava] was thrust upwards by the first blast and then left unsupported as the pressure subsides.’ Since then, studies of volcanoes coincide Pliny’s description: for example, if volcanic gases can be seen emitted from a volcano is it potentially a good sign as it means the eruption will not be explosive like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. This is because there will be limited gas trapped inside the volcano and a lower pressure build up. Along with studies about how a volcano works, volcanologists have developed ways to monitor and predict volcanoes. For example, seismometers are used to detect earthquakes that are occurring near an eruption as the seismic energy is caused by the underground movement of magma. Also, the gas emitted from a volcano is monitored using robots. Often volcanoes release increased amounts of sulphur dioxide near the time of an eruption.

But is human activity impacting the intensity or frequency of natural disasters? As a result of global warming, ice caps are melting, contributing to sea level rises. Along with deforestation, meaning that there are less trees to absorb rain water, there is an increased risk of severe flooding or storm surges. Furthermore, sea surface temperatures have risen by 0.25-0.5°C in the tropics. This means that tropical storms can pick up more energy as they need a minimum of 27°C of warm sea water to originate. This is why tropical storms are limited to forming around the equator and the storm can continue to strengthen with the continuous evaporation of the warm water. This will cause the pressure in the centre of the storm to decrease, drawing in more wind at faster wind speeds. Now that overall sea temperatures are rising, the storms can travel further, gathering more energy, before reaching cooler water which weakens the storm. This shows that human activity is causing more intense storms, although this is only one example among many other natural disasters that have been affected by human activity.

In conclusion, whilst natural disasters are still considered uncontrollable, human activities are contributing to its destructive impact on human civilisation.

Elissa, Ealing

A natural disaster is a naturally occurring event that may cause devastation and death in an area, for example a tsunami, volcanic eruption or tropical storm. There are many ways that humans have had to adapt to live with natural disasters and reduce their toll on the population, especially in urban areas. An example of this is earthquake proof buildings.

When an earthquake occurs in a built-up area, people are more likely to die if the building they are in falls down around them. The repairs that have to be done also cost money, which will be better spent on helping the people injured from the disaster. Therefore, many buildings are now earthquake-proof in areas that are prone to them.

Many earthquake proofing methods are based on trying to counteract the effects of the seismic waves. This involves the use of metals and wood, which are ductile and so bend without breaking. Flexible foundations are also used, so they bend and the building stays much more stationary. The horizontal forces that cause buildings to collapse are distributed throughout the building too, which is done using reinforcements.

Some skyscrapers also use massive pendulums which will swing in the opposite direction to the seismic waves, keeping the building stable. An example of this is the Taipei 101 in China, which has a massive gold ball suspended at the top of the tower, weighing nearly 800 tonnes!

In conclusion, human civilisation has had to adapt designs of buildings and skyscrapers in earthquake-prone areas to make sure that they can withstand against falling in the event of an earthquake. This is important as it saves lives and the expenses it would have taken to repair the buildings.

Iqra, Ealing

According to 1970 WHO a natural disaster can be defined as “an act of nature of such magnitude as to create a catastrophic situation in which the day-to-day patterns of life are suddenly disrupted and people are plunged into helplessness and suffering, and, as a result, need food, clothing, shelter, medical and nursing care and other necessities of life, and protection against unfavourable environmental factors and conditions.”

One natural disaster is the Australian bushfires which occurred in January 2020. Australia’s deadly fires were fuelled by extreme heat, prolonged drought and strong winds which were presumably caused by extreme weather as a result of climate change- which is an issue civilisation has been facing for decades.

The bushfires have impacted civilisation as it caused people to lose their lives due to homes and shelters burning down. Over 2000 homes were burnt down and approximately 240,000 people fled their homes. Because of this, thousands of people became homeless causing some to pass away due to lack of resources like food and water.

Another way natural disasters impact civilisation is through climate change. In combustion, O2 reacts with fuel and CO2 is produced along with H20. Due to the abundance of combustion, a great quantity of O2 was taken from the air and large amounts of CO2 was produced and released back into it which caused nearby people and others to die due to the lack of O2 and mass production of C02. The large amount of CO2 now in the atmosphere will contribute to climate change and will further take the lives of many across the globe.

To prevent this from worsening, we need to change our lifestyles to reduce the risk of climate change impacting civilisation in this way and to prevent other natural disasters like bushfires from occurring.

Aditi, Harrow

Mohammedbaqir, Ealing

During natural disasters the immediate reaction is, “Oh no! We’re going to die!” after following correct safety precautions and staying level headed, chances are, they survive. At this point, most people will let down their guard and just relax. This is the worst thing a person can do. Why? Diseases spread. In the case of typhoons and tsunamis, several diseases can spread. For example, cholera, diarrhoea, typhoids and yellow fever can spread through dirty water. This could be catastrophic for a third world country. Thousands upon thousands can die from the initial catastrophe and more can die due to the aftermath, death may not be the result, however, hospitals for miles can be full to the brim. For example, West Bengal (1998) flooding caused a cholera outbreak, with over 16,000 cases. This would’ve been no small matter.

In addition to this, tetanus outbreaks are common. Due to the mass destruction and obliteration of structures and other things, metal is scattered throughout, causing tetanus outbreaks.

To counter this, Foreign Aid was created, to help minimise casualties from countries and places that need it. International help is given to those who fall victim to a natural disaster. Human sympathy and empathy (for those who were fortunate enough to survive one) have lead to an emergency service under the name of human nature, we must continue to help and provide for those who need it.

To contrast now to millennia ago, Pompeii may not have been obliterated. First of all, the volcano would’ve had measures taken against it to make sure damage is minimised and once it exploded Pompeii and Herculaneum could’ve been saved. No doubt those left homeless would’ve been looked after and treated for their trauma. This catastrophe would’ve been avoided in the 21st century.

Aaqib, Harrow

A natural disaster is a randomly occurring event that can result in the loss of lives. Throughout history and in present day, natural disasters have had a huge impact on human civilisations. Many cities are situated away from volcanoes as an eruption can have a devastating impact on the city and its residents. We can see how deadly this can be by looking at prior events such as the time in which a volcano wiped out most of the population of Pompeii. The 2011 Japan earthquake is an example of how natural disasters affects us in the present day. This earthquake killed 15,897 people and costed £189 billion to repair the damage. Despite all of this, the worst type of natural disaster in my opinion are earthquakes.

Tectonic plates are large irregular slabs made of rock. These  plates are constantly sliding past one another and from time to time these plates get stuck due to friction. An earthquake comes about  when the pressure that builds up from the tectonic plates getting stuck is released. This pressure is released around the centre of the earthquake (the focus), and the area right above the focus, the epicentre, is the area where the earthquake has the most devastating impact. If the epicentre is close to the sea, the upward force created by the earthquake can trigger a tsunami.

Earthquakes release seismic waves. A piece of technology called a seismograph is used to detect these waves and predict upcoming earthquakes. However, this device can be unreliable at times as it can also detect seismic waves from explosions. A seismometer  works in the same way as a seismograph however it works by drawing zig zag lines and when detecting seismic waves these lines will become taller.

Maddie, Ealing

Earthquakes and their effects.

A natural disaster is a naturally occurring event which can cause damage or loss of life. One example is an earthquake, a sudden and short period of intense ground shaking. Over time tension and stress is built up in the Earth, often caused by the movement of tectonic plates. This stress builds up to the point that it becomes so powerful it causes a rupture in the Earth making the ground shake and relieving some tension from underground.

To predict an Earthquake, Seismologists use models based upon the combination of elastic rebound theory and tectonic plates. These models link the build of stress along a fault with the scale and location of the earthquake. You can also often find a pattern in earthquake zones however this does not aid in finding out when the earthquake will take place or its size. For example, there is a large concentration of earthquakes distributed around the ring of fire located over the Pacific Ocean so we can be expectant of far more earthquakes taking place in that region than any taking place in the UK.

Though we are now often able to predict earthquakes and can estimate where they happen, it does not mean that we are safe. On the 11th of March 2011 there was a devastating earthquake in Tohoku that struck the coast of Japan causing 18,000 deaths and $300 billion in damage. It also caused a tsunami that set off the Fukushima Daichi nuclear accident with the meltdown of three reactors and at least three reactors exploding when the cooling systems failed. High levels of radiation were released into local food and water supply raising the question of the safety of nuclear power in earthquake prone regions.

Charlize, Ealing

Rosie, Ealing

A natural disaster is defined as a devastating event, of natural cause, which directly affected human life. So if no human was affected by said event, then it is not classified as a natural disaster, but instead as a natural event. There have been many, many natural disasters during the billions of years this Earth has existed.

One of the most influential (and famous) natural disasters has got to be the eruption of Mt Vesuvius, Pompeii, on the 24th of August 79 AD. The ash, rocks and lava from this eruption buried the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae for what may have been forever, if we did not begin to excavate them in the 1700s.

At the time of the eruption, there was little to no way of predicting what was going to happen. Saying that however, the people of Pompeii didn’t have any idea that Vesuvius was a volcano; they thought it was simply a large mountain. If anything, this made the eruption even more devastating. That day, we lost information which could have possibly driven forward our civilisation centuries early.

But perhaps this eruption was a blessing in disguise. Think about it; the volcano’s ashes preserved history for us to discover. Without the excavation of Pompeii, how else would we know so much about Roman day-to-day life? The excavations were so well preserved that we can learn what it was like on an ordinary day, in an ordinary town; we saw life preserved ‘till the very last second of it.

This eruption impacted so many people, so without it, who knows where we would be today.