Ode to Physiology - Animal Olympics!

For 2016 The Physiological Society is looking at the theme of Elite Performance. To raise awareness of the physiology behind elite performance and highlight research exploring the makings of a champion in humans and other animals we held a science poetry competition ‘Ode to Physiology: Animal Olympics!’.

We are delighted to announce Charlie Toogood, Vismaya Kharkar and Rose McKerell  are the winners of our poetry competition ‘Ode to Physiology: Animal Olympics’, each coming up top out of their age groups.

We received over 100 entries to our science poetry competition which challenged participants to explore physiology through the medium of poetry. With some artistic licence entrants discussed the biological basis of elite performance using rhythm and rhyme. While the poems haven’t been checked for accuracy, we are delighted so many people engaged with the competition and expressed an interest in the science of life. A big thank you to everyone who took part!

Our expert judges Kelly Swain, poet in residence at Oxford University Museum, and Sian Hickson, previously an English teacher and now Director of Eureka Edinburgh, whittled down the entries to just one winner from the under 10s, 11-18s and the over 18s categories.

“Big and blue, can you guess who?” by Charlie Toogood (Under 10’s)

The cheetah would never have met this creature; 
A massive blowhole is its best feature. 
This is the nostril of the great beast, 
Who usually adores a krill feast. 
Every day it eats 8000 pounds,
 If I ate that much, I would be round! 
The milk tastes like liver and chalk, people say, 
But the babies still drink 50 gallons a day! 
150 tons is its weight, It’s the biggest animal, isn’t that great? 
With a life span 110 years long,
It’s the BLUE WHALE! Did you guess right or wrong?

 ‘Ode to the Hummingbird’ by Vismaya Kharkar (11-18s)

Just lighter than a copper pence, 
With ropy muscle and wings of gold he floats, 
His beak is sharp and needle-thin, 
Soft feathers thinner than waves make up his coat. 
From flower to flower he hovers and glides 
Sucking sweet nectar from each in turn 
For whenever he stops, from life he slides 
Falling into a torpor 
Deep and slow. 
His heart flutters, powerful. 
Nearly twenty beats a second, but at what cost? 
He is founded upon excellence, and without it, he will sleep.
A modern aurora – tiny, gold, and shining 
To awaken at the touch of nectar or a new day.

Ode to Physiology: Who am I? by Rose McKerrell (Over 18’s)

To give you a clue to my chosen athlete 
Here are some features which make it elite 
Its heart is amazing in strength, size and rate 
When running flat out- pulse can increase times eight! 
The lungs can expand to fill most of the chest, 
Oxygenating blood is what they do best, 
When running the guts move forward and back. 
Like a piston they help fill those little air sacs… 
The limb bones are reduced to run on one toe 
And the lack of a collarbone lets the front leg just flow 
The muscles are huge at the top they must go
When the fibres contract- some are fast , some are slow 
The ligaments stretch to take all the strain 
Then act like a catapult- forward again 
Narrow in front with an elegant head 
The air rushes past- for speed they are bred 
But what is most clever is it isn’t just fast 
This animal has stamina- it really can last It can win at eight furlongs or stay for the course. 
Because as you’ve guessed- my favourite’s the horse! 
Adapted for speed. Adapted to stay
 The horse is my winner every day 
And there’s one other feature of which science hasn’t told 
The horses second heart- the one made of gold!


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