Science: Course Offerings

All courses meet for a full year unless otherwise noted.

Biology Courses

Biology (Required)
The Department
Biology is the scientific extension of the human tendency to feel connected to and curious about all forms of life. It takes us to the wet, wild world inside a cell, and nudges us to take a close look at the stripes of a zebra or to plunge down to the dark regions at the bottom of the sea where albino crabs move with unhurried pace over the soft, cold mud. This course covers vital topics in this field such as cytology, genetics, biochemistry, taxonomy, evolution, botany, and ecology. This is a dense, grand tour of the most definitive aspect of this planet.

Prerequisite: None

In this course we will survey the structure, taxonomy, and evolution of plants and animals while investigating their phylogenetic (evolutionary) histories and relationships. We will focus on form, phylogeny, embryological development, and functional adaptations.

The course will be presented through a combination of lectures, labs, and perhaps an occasional field trip. Not for the faint of heart, laboratory assignments will require active participation in the observation and dissection of various specimens, living and nonliving, including protists, moss, insects, flowers and vertebrates. Although no specific background is assumed, students with an elementary knowledge of Darwinian evolution will be at an advantage.

Prerequisite: Biology

Advanced Physiology and the Ethics of Modern Medicine
M. Levin
Do you know how to read an EKG? Or how a bone marrow transplant works? Or why carbon monoxide gas can be poisonous? If you are interested in learning the answers to these questions and more, this course is for you!

In advanced physiology, we will work our way through the many complex systems of the human body, including (but not limited to) the respiratory, cardiovascular, immune, endocrine, and reproductive systems. We will begin each unit by studying the key players on a cellular level (alveoli and red blood cells, for example) and work outward to the physical laws and chemical principles that allow the human body to be the living, breathing, disease-fighting machine that it is! Along the way, we will focus on what happens when our human machinery fails, and the medical therapies that can treat these disease states, such as ventilators, defibrillators,  antibiotics, organ and bone marrow transplantation, and gene therapy.

This course will involve reading primary scientific literature from journals like Science and Nature, along with articles from popular magazines like The New Yorker and other literary works related to health and disease. These readings will take place at the conclusion of each unit, and will challenge the class to grapple with some of the most complex ethical dilemmas in modern medicine. Advanced physiology students will need an introductory background in biology and chemistry. Basic knowledge of physics will also be helpful, but is not necessary.

Prerequisite: Biology and Chemistry. Note: This course is open to 11th and 12th graders, or with permission of instructor.

Evolution: Major Biological Transitions
This course will examine the evidence of what was, is and will be in life. Evolution is the process by which living organisms develop and diversify from earlier forms. Topics will explore the great jumps in biology, including: ancient earth to early life, single-celled bacteria to multicellular eukaryotes, the development of photosynthesis and oxygen, colonization of land, insects and the power of flight, from birds to dinosaurs, the first flowers and their pollinators, the first primates to hominids to humans to Homo sapiens and beyond. We will gaze upon the grand whales – the mammals gone to sea. We will tweak the tiny viruses – the deadly escape artists. We will read the original works of Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, the developers of the revolutionary theory of natural selection. The timely conflicts and controversies of evolution will be addressed and reflected upon. The accelerating rate of evolution, in light of the advances of genetic technologies, will be covered through a biotechnology unit. The course is supplemented by a lab component.

Prerequisite: None

This course will survey the brain– its structure, its capabilities, and its unsolved mysteries. We will analyze the brain and its relation to behavior from the micro scale (the individual neuron) to the macro (our current view of human behavior as a whole). Additionally, we will look at how evolution has shaped our brain and the nervous systems of other species, such as the aplysia, over millions of years. Throughout the class, we will also discuss famous experiments in neuroscience as well as areas of current research. Our ultimate goal will be to construct a model of how our brains affect behavior, understand what can be done to modify this behavior, and acknowledge the questions about the brain that remain unanswered (i.e. What is consciousness? Why do we dream? How plastic is the human brain?).

Prerequisite: Biology. Note: A familiarity with basic anatomy and physiology is highly recommended.

Advanced Biology
This is an intense and rigorous immersion in a comprehensive study of biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, botany, evolution, and anatomy and physiology. Lectures and discussions are supplemented with occasional in-depth labs, and articles from journals such as Nature, Science, and Scientific American. The only way to cross the ocean of information, enjoying the fast pace and laboratory work, is to be a bonafide biophile! The class meets one seminar period each week in addition to regular class time. Students are expected to have a thorough grasp of first year biology topics.

Prerequisite: Biology and Chemistry

Chemistry Courses

Chemistry 1
The Department
This is a broad, sweeping, fast-paced survey course introducing students to the fundamental principles of chemistry, and to the basic techniques a chemist uses. Topics include stoichiometry, atomic and molecular theory, basic atomic and molecular structure, and gas laws, and may also include thermodynamics, chemical equilibrium, and acid-base chemistry. Students develop facility working with calculators and become intimate with the Periodic Table. Laboratory work is an integral part of the course, both in illustrating principles presented in lectures and in providing experience conducting qualitative analysis.

Prerequisite: Algebra 1

The Chemistry of Cooking
Have you ever tried to make homemade whipped cream and wound up with butter, or wondered why egg whites turn white when heated? This course is about the chemicals in foods and the processes that take place in the kitchen. We experiment with crystallization (a.k.a. candy making), emulsification (mayonnaise), coagulation (of milk) and many other chemical processes. We explore food spoilage and learn how humans have exploited it to produce yogurt, cheese, bread and beer. Experiments in this course are usually edible and are performed in the kitchen, the lab and in students’ homes. This course includes many topics not covered in Chemistry 1 while exploring the applications of some Chemistry 1 concepts. The class consists of lectures and labs.

Prerequisite: None

Organic Chemistry
K. Fiori
Organic molecules are everywhere. They make up our bodies, our clothing, the medicine we take, and the food we eat. This course is an introduction to the astounding complexity of these molecules and the diverse chemistry they participate in. We will focus primarily on the basic principles necessary to understand the structure and reactivity of these ubiquitous organic molecules. Students will learn to think like organic chemists. We will explore how differences in electronegativity, the presence of lone electron pairs, and resonance structures influence reactivity. We will analyze the symmetry of molecules and learn how to see molecules in three-dimensions. Additionally, we will learn to use our chemical knowledge to design routes to make complex molecules from simple starting materials. Throughout this course, we will draw on examples from daily life to illustrate the important chemical concepts we are studying. Weekly labs will introduce common laboratory separation and purification techniques and allow students to have first hand experience performing the reactions they study in class.

Prerequisite: Chemistry 1

Advanced Chemistry
K. Fiori, Velikonja
This course is designed to give students the experience of an intensive college level course in which they will hone their ability to think critically about chemical phenomena. We will discover why some chemical reactions happen while others don’t, how quickly reactions happen and how far they will proceed (thermodynamics, kinetics and equilibrium). We will also revisit, and explore in greater depth, some of the topics from first year Chemistry including stoichiometry, gas laws and bonding. Additionally, we will discuss applications of chemistry such as electrochemistry, buffer systems and solubility. The rapid pace of the course requires independent learning and preparation on students’ part, and weekly seminar period labs add to the time commitment. Advanced Chemistry is for those who seek a deeper understanding of matter, relish wrestling with equations and who find chemical reactions exocharmic.

Prerequisite: Chemistry 1

Physics Courses

Physics 1
The Department
This course provides a systematic introduction to the main principles of classical physics such as motion, forces, fields, electricity, and magnetism. We emphasize the development of conceptual understanding and problem solving abilities using algebra and trigonometry. Familiarity with trigonometry is highly helpful, but not required. The class includes a laboratory component.

Prerequisite: This class is open to 10th, 11th and 12th graders, or with permission of the instructor.

Analytical Physics

This second year, college-level physics course builds on the material from Physics 1 with an emphasis on deeper, more complex problems and covers new topics such as fluid dynamics, optics, atomic and modern physics. The course focuses on problem solving and mathematical methods.

Prerequisite: Physics 1

Physics: Mechanics and Relativity
This course is a study of motion. The depth with which we examine motion, however, is such that by June we may no longer know what the term “motion” means. Motion of what? A particle? A field? Motion in which reference frame? Is the motion inertial or accelerated? Jerked or whipped? Eternally differentiable? By solving numerous and subtle problems in mechanics and exploring the mind-blowing developments of the twentieth century, we begin to see patterns, sense, and harmony in the laws of nature.

Prerequisite: None

Electricity and Magnetism
This course is a calculus based, in-depth exploration of electrostatics; conductors, capacitors and dielectrics; electric circuits; magnetic fields and electromagnetism.

Prerequisite: Analytical Physics and Calculus 1 Co-requisite: Calculus 2

Fundamental and Particle Physics (2x per week)

What is the Universe made of? Where did it come from and what will happen to it? What are the fundamental building blocks of matter? What are quarks and quark “colors”? What is the nature of the forces that shape matter across the universe? What are bosons and fermions? What is time? How are time and energy related? Can we harness the vast energies that power stars over their enormous lifespans? What is space? What is vacuum made of? What is antimatter?

What innovations enable us to answer these questions and what technologies stem from these answers?

This class explores the basic questions that underlie progress in modern physics. We will examine the two wholesale revolutions that rocked physics in the 20th century. Relativity theory asks us to imagine how time and space may depend on the observer, and seeks to convince us that they must! Quantum theory asks us to imagine ethereal entities obeying beautifully symmetric patterns of interactions, and seeks to convince us that our world must be made this way! We will ponder the physics of the 21st century, driven by theoretical speculations of grand unification and quantum gravity, hand in hand with empirical mysteries from dark matter and dark energy, to the dawning of almost paradoxical quantum technologies.

What is the nature of the questions physicists ask today, and what constitute plausible answers? What passes for sufficiently convincing evidence? We will read and write about these topics, perform physical and computational experiments, interpret data, propose theories and taste the frontiers of modern physics.

Prerequisite: One full-year course in physics or chemistry.

This is an engineering-based class with an emphasis on teamwork, creativity, and problem solving. Working in teams, students use Lego-Mindstorm and Robolab software to design and program gradually more advanced robots, from simple cars to cranes and crawlers. We cover various scientific concepts ranging from the mechanics of motion and gravity to the depths of artificial intelligence, where autonomous machines are capable of interpreting their environment and adapting to it. Robotics is an extremely hands-on course requiring a high level of independent motivation.

Prerequisite: None

Other Courses

Dinosaurs: Bringing Them Back to Life
(Please see Interdisciplinary Studies)

Meteorology (Spring semester)
Weather impacts our lives every day, from influencing what we wear to helping us decide how much time to leave to get to the airport. Severe weather – hurricanes, tornadoes, and winter storms, for example – obviously impacts lives on a much more significant scale. In this course, students will learn the basics of what causes weather. For example, how do barometric pressure, warm and cold air masses, dewpoint, and the Coriolis Effect interact to influence jet streams, El Niño conditions, nor’easters, and category-5 hurricanes? We’ll also learn how forecasters use on-line data and various weather instruments to predict short-term and long-range weather conditions.

Prerequisite: None

Oceanography (Fall semester)
Dive into the exciting world of physical oceanography! We’ll examine myriad topics, from the geologic processes that created the oceans and continue to modify the seafloor and our coastlines, to the unique chemical properties of seawater and the role that currents, tides and waves play in the ever-changing, glorious oceans. We will also discuss the role that oceans play in helping us to understand the earth’s history, and consider a variety of renewable and non-renewable marine resources. In addition to in-class lab activities, students will participate in a boat trip on Long Island Sound to learn how to collect and analyze oceanographic data.

Prerequisite: None

Game Theory 101
How do hawks coordinate their hunt? How does a stallion decide when to fight and when to back down? How do apes decide when to share, whom to trust, whom to deceive? How do entire lineages decide how much energy to expend on nurturing the young?

When we sit down at the poker table, how do we formulate a betting strategy? Does it change fluidly in response to the behavior of others at the table? Is there any way to model such a thing, or are we stuck with our “gut” intuition? When we allow contractors to bid for that prestigious linoleum-countertop contract, when we decline the steroids even as we suspect others are benefiting from them, when we consider evolving a new limb over the next million years, when we form alliances with countries (or species) we can’t entirely trust… WHAT ARE WE GETTING OURSELVES INTO?!?

There’s no better way to develop a deep understanding of these multifarious scenarios than to actually PLAY the GAMES! We will spend our time developing game-theoretic models for everything from card games to ecosystems, from financial markets to dating strategies, and testing them in the lab of our own classroom. While we will be dealing on a deep level with very complex systems, there won’t be too much formalism (“math”) — We’ll evaluate our games according to how well they model real-world scenarios, and how simple, fun, and enlightening they are to play.

Prerequisite: None

Math of Life: The Intersection of Biology and Mathematics is an Amazing Frontier!
P. Theodosopoulos,T. Theodosopoulos

Enter the realm of how living systems evolved and work together to create a functioning whole. Join us in Math of Life as we explore the emerging field of mathematical biology. We ponder the big questions and build models to understand the complexity of biological systems. The modeling process plays a central role in this class, offering opportunities to study various mathematical concepts in context, including dynamical systems, Markov chains, random walks and optimization. Students help design and run laboratory and computer-based experiments to illustrate these processes in biological systems, and practice statistical analysis and interpretation of the results.

This year we focus on two topics, Genetics and Epigenetics in the Fall term, and Epidemiology and Immunology in the Spring term. The exciting new field of epigenetic dynamics extends population genetics, getting to the heart of the “nature vs. nurture” debate. Epigenetic modification to our DNA appears to underlie the expression of traits in both healthy and disease states, as diverse as cancer, obesity and autism. Epidemiology attempts to track the development and spread of dangerous emerging pathogens through spatial diffusion and mutation models. These pathogens evolve along with our immune system. Did you know that whenever you are exposed to a new pathogen some of your immune cells are actually permitted, even encouraged, to mutate their DNA? Amazing, but true, and mathematical models are leading the way to understanding the how and why. That’s the math of life.

You can find more information about our Math of Life class, including our physical and computational labs, presentations and our reading and writing assignments, on our website, click here.

Prerequisite: Biology and Algebra 2

The Science Of Music
Why is it so difficult to tune a guitar? Why is it impossible to tune a saxophone (perfectly)? Why do all cultures have music/dance? What makes that catchy “hook” become an “ear worm,” something you’ll remember forever? How does the orchestra choose its instruments and stage plot; how does your favorite band? Why do you prefer that pair of headphones to the other? How does music evoke emotion and stoke memory?

In The Science of Music, we’ll study the acoustics of musical instruments, from drums to didgeridoos to electric guitars. We’ll analyze popular tracks using audio-engineering software, and compose our own. We’ll listen to songs and jams from around the world, and discuss the evolution and cognition of music itself. Ideas from physics, mathematics, and neuroscience will not only be discussed; they’ll be experienced.

Prerequisite: No formal experience with music is needed – only appreciation and curiosity.

Independent Science Research (One half credit per year)
The Department
The Independent Science Research Program grants students the opportunity to design experimental strategies to explore personally perplexing questions of science: What would happen if…? Why is it that…? How does…? Research objectives are as unique and varied as the investigator. Topics are multidisciplinary, ranging from biology and chemistry to the physical fields.

Independent Science Research is a cooperative endeavor between a student or several students and their chosen mentor. Saint Ann’s science teachers, as well as auxiliary research investigators, serve as advisers. Students meet with the research coordinator in September to discuss potential exploration topics and to make a productive mentor match. Research work proceeds at a pace stipulated by the project as well as the ambition of the research team. Research groups are expected to meet regularly every week. In addition, research students are required to gather as a group for one scheduled class period per week. This class will be used to discuss scientific literature, investigate science research methods, and conduct peer review presentations. After completing a year of exploration, students summarize their projects in a formal research paper. In the spring, discoveries are made public though a poster and oral symposium.

Prerequisite: None