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Synergy

There are two GCSE Combined Science courses: Trilogy and Synergy. I'm sure you know that the word “trilogy” means “a group of three”. As the name suggests, the Trilogy Combined Science curriculum is structured into three main sections: biology, chemistry and physics. However, you may not have come across the term “synergy”. What does it mean, and how does it relate to your course structure?


Synergy Definition

First off, what does synergy mean?

Synergy is the combined power of a group of things working together. This power is greater than if the things worked separately.

Synergy is often used in business contexts. Think teamwork! A group of people can achieve more working together than one person can by themselves.

Synergy Examples in Nature

Examples of synergy don't only occur in business. Synergistic relationships exist between living organisms, where their combined effort, or 'teamwork', produces a greater result than if the organisms did not interact.

Mutualisms

Mutualistic relationships are positive interactions between different species. Both species perform a “service” for each another that they can't perform by themselves. Mutualism can be thought of as an example of synergy.

Sea Anemones and Clownfish

  • Sea anemones repel clownfish predators by stinging them with their tentacles. Clownfish skin has a protective layer, preventing them from accidentally getting stung.
  • Clownfish scare off predators of the anemone.

Living in Groups

Animals obtain benefits from living and working together as a group. Thus, group living is a synergistic interaction.

Benefits of Living in Groups

  • Reduced predation
  • Improved foraging and hunting
  • Group movement and democracy

Animals that live in groups often experience altruism and reciprocity.

Altruism

Altruism is behaviour that benefits other organisms, but not yourself. It is a synergistic interaction because it provides more benefit to the group than if every individual acted selfishly.

Vampire Bats

  • Despite their scary-sounding name, vampire bats are very caring animals.
  • Sometimes, bats regurgitate their food and offer it to other bats in the colony who haven't been able to eat that day.
  • This behaviour ensures the colony survives.

Reciprocity – “if you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours”

Reciprocity is returning an altruistic favour. It's hard to prove in nature, but there are a few examples.

Rats

  • An experiment tested if rats would help unfamiliar rats.
  • Rats who received help were 20% more likely to help other rats.

Synergy in Combined Science

You might be wondering how the concept of synergy relates to the structure of your science GCSE. So synergy is all about working together, right? In this course, you learn the three sciences together. The Synergy course is split into several topics. Each contains components of biology, chemistry, and physics.

Here's an overview of the course structure. Each subtopic has a few questions that summarise their content, and hopefully, get you feeling inquisitive!

Building Blocks of Science

This topic provides the physical, chemical, and biological foundations for your course.

Key Themes of Building Blocs of Science

States of Matter:

  • What are the three states of matter?
  • How do the particles behave in each state of matter?
  • How can you change an object's state of matter?

Atomic Structure:

  • How has the theory of atomic structure changed over time?
  • What is the atomic model?
  • How do subatomic particles influence the properties of an element?

Cells:

  • How do microscopes work?
  • What functions do cell organelles carry out?
  • How do cells reproduce?

Waves:

  • What are waves?
  • What is the electromagnetic spectrum?
  • What are the everyday applications of the electromagnetic spectrum?

Transport Over Larger Distances

This topic focuses on the internal systems that work together to keep animals and plants alive.

Key Themes of Transport Over Larger Distances

Systems in the Human Body:

  • How do humans respire?
  • How do the heart and lungs work together to support respiration?
  • How do organ systems work together?

Photosynthesis:

  • What is photosynthesis?
  • How are plants adapted for photosynthesis?
  • How do plants transport chemicals?

Interactions with the Environment

This topic examines how human health can be impacted by the natural environment or our own decisions.

Key Themes of Interactions with the Environment

Lifestyle and Health:

  • What are non-communicable diseases?
  • How can your lifestyle affect your health?
  • How does contraception influence the female hormone cycle?

Radiation and Risk

  • What is radioactive decay?
  • How can radiation affect your health?

Diseases:

  • How are communicable diseases spread?
  • How can the body defend itself against pathogens?
  • How can we prevent and treat diseases?

Explaining Change

This topic explores how the natural world has changed over time, including the influence of humans.

Key Themes of Explaining Change

The Earth's Atmosphere:

  • How did Earth's atmosphere develop?
  • How are carbon and water cycled around the planet?
  • How have humans impacted the physical world?

Ecosystems and Biodiversity:

  • How are ecosystems organised?
  • How do organisms interact with one another?
  • How have humans affected ecosystems?

Inheritance:

  • How do our genes affect who we are?
  • How do our genes determine our sex?

Variation and Evolution:

  • How do genetic changes lead to variation?
  • What is natural selection?
  • How can humans manipulate variation?

Building Blocks for Understanding

This topic draws on your understanding of atomic structure and its effects on elements.

Key Themes of Building Blocks for Understanding

The Periodic Table:

  • What is the periodic table?
  • How are elements categorised in the periodic table?
  • What properties do different groups of the periodic table have?

Chemical Quantities:

  • How do you write an equation for a chemical reaction?
  • What is formula mass?
  • Why is mass always conserved during a chemical reaction?

Interactions over Small and Large Distances

This topic investigates the physical laws that govern the world.

Key Themes of Interactions Over Small and Large Distances

Forces and Energy Changes:

  • How do forces work?
  • How do you calculate energy?
  • Can energy be stored?

Structure and Bonding:

  • What types of chemical bonds are there?
  • How do chemical bonds affect the properties of a substance?

Magnetism and Electromagnetism:

  • How do magnets work?
  • What are magnetic fields?
  • What is electromagnetism?

Movement and Interactions

This physics-based topic will help you gain an understanding of the forces behind movement. You'll also learn how the movements of electrons create electric currents.

Key Themes of Movement and Interactions

Forces and Motion:

  • How can you measure motion?
  • What is kinetic energy?
  • What are Newton's Laws?

Electricity:

  • What is electricity?
  • How does current travel in a circuit?
  • How do we get electricity in our homes?

Acids and Alkali

This topic covers acids and alkalis — what they are, how they react, and how to measure them.

Key Themes of Acids and Alkali

Reactions of Acids:

  • What products are formed when acids react?
  • What is a neutralisation reaction?
  • How does energy change during a reaction?

The pH Scale:

  • What is the pH scale?
  • How can you measure acidity and alkalinity?
  • What ions affect pH?

Chemical Reactions

This topic shines a light on chemical reactions and the factors that affect them.

Key Themes of Chemical Reactions

Reaction Rates:

  • What factors affect reaction rates?
  • What is activation energy?
  • What are catalysts used for?

Reversible Reactions

  • What are reversible reactions?
  • What is dynamic equilibrium?

The Reactivity Series

  • What is the reactivity series?
  • What is electrolysis?
  • How can you test for different gases?

Sustainability

In this topic, you'll get to grips with natural resources, and how we can alter our consumption to provide a sustainable future for our planet.

Key Themes of Sustainability

Carbon Chemistry

  • What is crude oil?
  • How can we separate and refine crude oil?
  • What is cracking?

Metal Extraction

  • How can we extract metals by the reduction of oxides?
  • How can we extract metals using electrolysis?

Energy Resources

  • What are the different types of energy resources?
  • How can we make energy use more efficient?
  • What is energy efficiency?

Material Resources

  • What is a Life Cycle Assessment?
  • How does recycling benefit the environment?

Working Scientifically

This final topic doesn't have any facts or concepts to learn. Instead, it teaches you the skills to work like a scientist. You'll learn how to think scientifically, through researching, developing hypotheses and having a keen eye for detail.

Experiments are an important part of science. By the end of this course, you will have acquired the skills and strategies to plan and perform an experiment. After the experiment, you'll know how to analyse and evaluate your results. Get ready to draw some graphs!

Finally, this topic will teach you how to write like a scientist. Using proper vocabulary, units and symbols is important and will be needed in your exams.


1. Andrew Spacey, Altruism: Examples of How Wild Animals Care for Their Own and Others, Owlcation, 2022

2. AQA, GCSE Combined Science: Synergy Specification, 2019

3. Cambridge Dictionary, Synergy, 2022

4. Claudia Rutte, Generalized Reciprocity in Rats, PLoS Biology, 2007

5. Nicholas B. Davies, An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology, 2012

6. Scott Auerbach, Examples of Synergy in Nature, Sciencing, 2021

Frequently Asked Questions about Synergy

Synergy is a variation of the GCSE Combined Science course.

The Synergy course teaches the three sciences altogether, whilst the Trilogy course teaches them separately.

Combined Science: Synergy is worth two GCSEs.

Lots of animals live in groups and obtain benefits (such as improved hunting) from this teamwork.

The synergistic effect in chemistry occurs when combining two chemicals produces a greater effect than the effects of both individual chemicals.

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