Governors’ Research Project Prize

The Governors’ Research Project Prize is an opportunity for Upper School students to enrich their learning through the undertaking of a research project on a topic they have not formally covered in class.

This has the dual benefit of developing, extending and enriching the student’s experience of her/his studies in a subject, and creating an opportunity to learn the key requirements of formally presenting individual academic research. This year we received around 30 entries with a diverse range of titles. The judging panel of teachers read and discuss the scripts and decide on a shortlist of six students who are invited to sit a viva with the Headmaster and members of the School’s governing board. There is a cash prize for the winner and runners-up. For students going into Year 13 this is a great way of demonstrating to universities the ability to work independently. The experience of a viva, where students are questioned closely on a topic they have researched in great depth, proves to be fantastic preparation for future academic interviews too.

Our 2018 winner was Alba, with a project entitled: How has Guerica become a global icon of political protest and to what extent is it truly "the last great history painting"?

Our 2018 runners-up were:

  • Charlie, with a project entitled: Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?
  • Seth, with a project entitled: How did human intelligence evolve?

Select a tab, below, to read their project abstracts. 

Alba's Abstract

Patricia Leighten writes that the artist is “a political being, constantly awake to harrowing, impassioned or favourable world events, shaping himself entirely in their image”, yet many dispute that art is an instrument for conveying social unrest. As someone with interests in both art and politics, I want to communicate that, whilst I recognise that political effect will not arise from an isolated piece, within the correct political culture this piece can become an influential symbol. Picasso’s Guernica is one such symbol, providing an intersection between the two differing fields of art and politics which enthralled me. Initially a visual interest, I was viscerally attracted to the huge, abstracted, dynamic composition and monochrome colours, prior to uncovering a whelm of hidden narrative and implications which further interested me. In this essay I intend to deal with the controversies surrounding Guernica, providing artistic analysis of the layers of symbolism, contextual significance and the factors which lend to its implications and prominence in both the art scene and the world. Prestigious art historians have doubted the political intentions of Picasso’s work[1], regardless of his statements that “these years of terrible oppression have demonstrated to me that I must fight with not only my art, but my whole self”. I argue that the significance of this work is not a matter of arbitrary interpretation but of continuing value in the way that it can still communicate over 80 years later. I will then conclude by questioning whether, if Guernica was really “the last great history painting”, does political art have the capacity to hold the same weight, and once more become a renowned motif of anti-violent feeling today. 

[1] Imdahl, M., 1982.: Picassos Bild “Guernica”. Lyrik und Malerie der Avant Garde Munich, 20(14) pp. 521-565.

Charlie's Abstract

In modern life, the general idea has been that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. However historically this has not always been the case and breakfast was not even considered a meal for some. Recent research shows conflicting data as to whether breakfast is beneficial or not. Research into diet induced thermogenesis has shown that breakfast provides similar, or even sometimes less, amounts of energy compared to other meals, suggesting that breakfast is relatively no more important. Free radicals produced by metabolic processes when we eat have been shown to cause oxidative stress, which leads to major cellular and DNA damage and mitochondrial dysfunction. This destruction of these areas has been shown to result in life-threatening diseases and aging. Studies have shown that continuous calorie restriction for non-human animals has led to longevity and they may also show that fasting could have a positive effect on humans. Consideration should be given as to whether adapting breakfast habits could take advantage of these findings. Overall further research must be conducted into the benefits of fasting and especially intermittent fasting and whether the timing, size or content of our meals could impact human health and aging.

Seth's Abstract

The evolution of human intelligence has been much debated, yet a cohesive theory describing how this essential feature of human existence evolved has remained elusive. I discuss the modern thinking on this question and use this to suggest a possible process. I analyse theories suggesting that bipedalism served as an important preadaptation by necessitating more premature childbirth and allowing the use of tools, causing an increase in intelligence. I build into these ideas theories suggesting that the selection pressures acting on humans may in fact have been predominantly social in nature. I examine how living in groups would have enabled beneficial social exchange to occur and trigger a runaway selection process favouring increased brain size, enabling individuals to detect "cheaters" seeking the benefits of such an exchange without mutuality. I then examine how a large brain could potentially serve as an indicator of gene quality for an individual choosing a mate, resulting in sexual selection where intelligence and an individual’s minimum requirement in intelligence for a mate escalate simultaneously, causing runaway selection for intelligence. I conclude that ecological pressures were likely to have been responsible for the initial increase in brain size, which increased the available social opportunities, shifting the selection pressures from primarily ecological to primarily social, which in turn caused brain size to increase to the point that sexual selection acted upon it further to drive intelligence upwards. I posit that a positive feedback loop fed by these interconnected factors is responsible for the evolution of human intelligence.