Cherwell pupils Kahlil Eve-Rowe and George Hext analyse tropical forest leaves with Oxford researcher Agne Gvozdevaite

Cherwell pupils Kahlil Eve-Rowe and George Hext analyse tropical forest leaves with Oxford researcher Agne Gvozdevaite

Four pupils from The Cherwell School have been helping an Oxford University Lithuanian student as part of an international research programme on tropical forests and their response to climate change. The pupils spent a 'work experience' week in the laboratories at Oxford University's School of Geography and Environment using computer graphics techniques to analyse leaf samples.

For the Cherwell pupils - Rafi Abdullah, Kahlil Eve-Rowe, Joseph Fraser and George Hext - it was their first introduction to work experience. "During the first day we analysed soil samples from a Ghanaian farm. This gave us first-hand experience of working in a lab in one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Analysing soils may seem dull at first, but we were soon trying out several complex analytical processes including ion chromatography," said George Hext and Rafi Abdullah.

George, Rafi, Kahlil and Joseph were working with Agne Gvozdevaite, a doctoral student in the Ecosystem Laboratory in the Environmental Change Institute. Agne, originally from Lithuania, is researching the functional diversity of tropical forests and their sensitivity to drought. She spent much of the last year helping to gather over one thousand leaf samples from more than 150 tree species in the tropical forests of Brazil and Ghana.

The pupils used computer graphics software to trace and digitise the patterns of the veins in the tropical leaves. Variation in leaf "venation" provides insights into how trees and plants function and respond to stresses such as drought. Kahlil Eve-Rowe said, "The lab was an exciting place. We got detailed insights into what goes on when preparing for a doctoral level experiment. If you are interested in biochemistry this is an ideal place".

One of the tree climbers at the Forestry Research Institute in Ghana, gathering leaf samples for analysis in the Oxford laboratory

One of the tree climbers at the Forestry Research Institute in Ghana, gathering leaf samples for analysis in the Oxford laboratory

The laboratory analysis by the pupils is part of an international initiative called GEM-Traits, co-ordinated through the Global Ecosystem Monitoring programme and involving forest scientists across the world. GEM-Traits aims to improve understanding of tropical forest ecosystem functions and how these might respond to climate change.

Miss Gvozdevaite said, "The students did a great job. I got a huge amount of work done with their help. They were attentive and efficient - and didn't complain about some of the more onerous tasks. They were really creative at dealing with the more difficult jobs. A pleasure to have such nice, ambitious and polite young people in the lab."

Agne Gvozdevaite's supervisor Professor Yadvinder Malhi, who has a son at Cherwell School, leads the Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests. "Many people will not realise that the city of Oxford is a global leader in tropical forest research and practice. The Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests is a network of over 25 local businesses, conservation bodies and research departments employing over 200 people. But we haven't got a school on board yet!"

After his week in the labs, Joseph Fraser said, "Learning about lab protocols, programming in Matlab, new Excel skills, chemical analysis … without a doubt I would recommend this work experience to everyone who wishes to pursue a career in science. Invaluable - a wonderful experience!".