Fiona Claxton, from Toothill School in Nottinghamshire, worked with Mark Cave and Joanna Wragg from the British Geological Survey in Keyworth on a study of the relationship between natural geological factors and health in man and animals.
Fiona Claxton with fellow bursary student Natalie Jones
How did you get involved in the Nuffield Bursary Programme and why did you want to take part in the programme?
My chemistry teacher approached a couple of people in my class and asked if we might be interested. I was quite excited by the prospect as the science syllabus is very rigid and we never see any real application of what we learn. I spent some time writing my application and was fortunately successful in gaining a place.
What were the aims of your project, and how did you go about achieving these?
The study was based on soils in Northampton. The aim was firstly to see if there was any relationship between the amount of certain harmful elements in the soil and what was built there.
The secondary aim was slightly more in-depth and involved the 'bioacessibility' of these elements. Bioacessibility is the proportion of these harmful elements in the soil that are actually able to be absorbed by the human body. Taking the example of Arsenic, although there may be high concentrations of the element, 90% of this Arsenic may be in the wrong compounds to be absorbed by our digestive system, and as such, do not have to be classed as dangerous. We also therefore wanted to see if there was any link between the bioacessibility of harmful elements , what was built on that spot in Northampton or what the underlying rock type was on that spot.
To achieve these aims we analysed soil samples using mass spectroscopy (which I had learnt about in my chemistry lessons but never actually seen!) and a new method developed by my supervisors at the British Geological Survey that emulated the human digestive system. We then used computer programming to format the data on spreadsheets into spatial distribution graphs so we could more easily identify patterns.
What did you learn most from your bursary experience?
That patience and hard work are the bedrock of scientific research, sparks of inspiration are rare and no help without the dedication!
The British Geological Survey sponsored 10 Nuffield bursary placements this year, providing high quality placements for students interested in Earth & Environmental projects. We are very grateful for their support.