This year’s debate saw six intrepid members of staff trying to convince a sceptical audience of students that their chosen item or idea was the greatest that mankind has ever known.

Making the case for chemists everywhere Colin Fielding kicked off proceedings with a passionate paean of praise for polymer, stressing its universal and ubiquitous application, and driving home his message with the oft repeated claim that ‘polymer saves lives.’ Fighting the Maths corner Lucy Rawcliffe extolled the virtues of the circle, without which civilisation would have developed very differently indeed. Lucy made the telling point that it is no coincidence that pizzas are round!

Democracy was born in Greece, as was the next speaker Zaphira Kambouris, who made a strong case for the political system devised by her ancestors, the only one that guarantees freedom to the individual. Anna Warburg chose the power of story-telling for her pitch, reminding the audience that there is a moral dimension to life and that stories teach us invaluable lessons and encourage us to look outwards.

mark-and-the-washing-machineBiologist Dan Foulder highlighted the contribution of cell theory as the basis of modern medicine and genetics, as well as informing the audience that ‘cells’ are so named because they resembled the cells of monks when viewed through a microscope. Taking the historical perspective Mark Boyns presented a strangely compelling argument in support of the humble washing machine, reminding us of its capacity to save water, energy, lives and time.

After fielding a number of questions from the audience the gallant speakers had to endure a process of electronic and very public voting before a final three emerged into the final stages. Colin Fielding hammered home his message as to the efficacy of polymers; Anna Warburg pointed out that creators of fiction had anticipated all the most significant technological and social developments that mankind has experienced, and that only fiction provides us with a refuge of the imagination in which we can all luxuriate. Mark Boyns delivered what turned out to be the killer blow when he concluded his contribution with the not entirely accurate observation that whilst the ideas presented by the other speakers were essentially discoveries, the washing machine was an invention. In the final voting the washing machine emerged as a clear winner; a triumph of spin, it might be argued.

Despite the final outcome being described by one of the contributors as a ‘demagogic nightmare’ the whole event was extremely well received by the audience of enthusiastic students, who enjoyed the verbal dexterity, passion and humour which our band of fearless teachers brought to the occasion.