Science Courses


Students must take one full-year laboratory course in a physical science (satisfied by a full-year physics or chemistry course), and they must take one full-year laboratory course in biology. The science department strongly recommends that all students take three full-year laboratory courses; one each in physics, chemistry and biology (in this sequence) so that they are well educated in the three major sciences. The department urges this sequence for students planning to take all three because physics will lead to a more thorough understanding of chemistry and both of these will lead to a better understanding of biology. Students taking semester courses and half courses may be in the Class I or II year. In addition, they must have received credit for at least two full-year laboratory courses, or be enrolled in a second full-year laboratory course concurrently with the semester course. Advanced courses in science are open to Class I students who have taken laboratory courses in physics, chemistry and biology.

Class IV Physics
Class IV
In Class IV Physics, students are introduced to the fundamental concepts of physics as well as basic methods of scientific investigation. Many of the exercises and experiments are inquiry-based, which allows students to experience the physics phenomena first hand and learn to draw conclusions from data. Topics covered will include Newton’s Laws of Motion, momentum, energy, electricity and magnetism. These topics, taught in combination with fundamental science skills, will prepare Class IV students for higher level science courses. The double-period class meetings allow students to investigate topics in depth with guidance from the instructor, research a topic of interest to them, develop questions, and create an experiment to test their hypotheses. Students culminate their work in Class IV Physics by conducting an independent, self-designed experiment.

Classes I, II & III
This course covers the breadth of the discipline with an emphasis on qualitative understanding of concepts as well as problem solving. Topics covered in the first semester are kinematics, Newton’s Laws of Motion, momentum, energy, circular motion and gravitation, which will culminate in a comprehensive exam. The second semester includes the study of waves, sound, light, electricity, magnetism, and possibly relativity and modern physics. The weekly labs reinforce the concepts discussed in the classroom and stress the procedures of science. Many of these labs use an inquiry approach. Students will complete their Physics experience by conducting a Design-Your-Own experiment in place of an exam. Students who take this course are well prepared to take either chemistry course.

Classes I, II & III
This course helps students understand and apply concepts of chemistry through problem solving, demonstrations and laboratory experiences. Students study the behavior of common elements and their compounds as well as the laws that govern chemical reactions. This course emphasizes both qualitative and quantitative aspects of chemistry as well as observational and organizational skills. Students also explore the connection between chemistry and the environment. As students gain proficiency in the lab and in the inquiry process, they become responsible for the construction of experimental hypotheses and for developing lab procedures. Students will complete the year with an independent lab project of their choosing.

Chemistry (Honors)
Classes I, II & III
Chemistry (Honors) is a quantitative course in which students study the properties and behavior of matter and the laws governing chemical reactions. The course covers the following topics: atomic theory, molecular structure, stoichiometry, gas laws, thermochemistry, oxidation-reduction, electrochemistry, acids and bases, equilibrium systems, kinetics and reaction mechanisms. The laboratory work emphasizes an inquiry process by requiring students to design independent investigations of open-ended questions and stresses the process involved in scientific research. Both the class work and the laboratory work of this course build on a lab-based physics course. (Prerequisite: A course in
physics and permission of the department.)

Class II or Class I, or permission of the department chair
Biology is the study of life. Designed to follow a course in chemistry, this course will explore the evolutionary and ecological diversity of life through an inquiry-teaching model. Broad themes in Biology include ecology and energetics, cell structure and function, genetics, heredity and molecular biology. As the year progresses, we emphasize connections between broad biological concepts—ecology and human biology, for example.

Biology (Honors)
Class II or Class I, or permission of the department chair
Designed to follow a course in chemistry, this accelerated course will explore molecular, cellular, organismal and ecological biology through an inquiry-teaching model. Broad themes in Biology (Honors) include ecology and energetics, cell structure and function, molecular biology, genetics and heredity. Students will explore the material through class discussions, review of scientific literature and work in the laboratory; they will practice critical thinking and writing as well as designing, conducting and analyzing experiments. There is a substantial out-of-class lab component in Biology (Honors) that students will need to coordinate with their lab partner(s). (Prerequisite: A course in chemistry and permission of the department.)

Advanced Courses in Science

Class I

The goal of these courses is to give our most capable, motivated science students an opportunity to further explore topics in each individual subject area. These courses include a significant amount of inquiry-based laboratory work. Through these explorations, students will broaden their understanding of the natural world. These courses may include readings of primary research, other scientific literature and scientific textbooks, along with class discussions and inquiry-based lab work (both independent from and in concert with the instructor).

To register for any of these courses, students must have completed laboratory courses in physics, chemistry and biology and have permission from Ms.Seplaki. Students may take Advanced Physics or Advanced Chemistry concurrently with Biology (Honors) with permission from Ms. Seplaki. If a student chooses to move out of Biology (Honors) for any reason, he or she will be required to drop the Advanced course being taken concurrently. All full-year courses at Milton Academy qualify as laboratory courses. If students have taken courses at other institutions, they should contact Ms. Seplaki, who will determine whether they can receive credit for that work. These classes are designed for our strongest science students, and students need to be academically qualified to keep up with the high level of work. All students in Advanced Courses in Science will be required to present at the end-of-year Science Symposium.

Advanced Biology
This course allows students to deepen their understanding of biological concepts and hone their laboratory technique, skills and writing. Much of the work in class will integrate molecular biology techniques to elucidate principles studied. In the first semester students will study cell signaling and prokaryotic gene expression and synthetic biology extensively. In the second semester students will study evolutionary biology. Studying evolution will allow students to integrate all areas of biology with understanding the process and outcome of evolution. Possible explorations include analysis and synthesis of synthetic DNA devices; assay of gene function in bacteria; analysis of mc1r sequence and mitochondrial DNA in the student’s genome; tissue regeneration in flatworms; sexual development of c-ferns, and behavior of c. elegans. Students will practice laboratory techniques necessary in the study of the organisms, and they will further their understanding of the concepts and protocols of molecular biology. Students should enjoy working in the lab and want to push themselves in studying biological sciences. We will use primary scientific articles as models of research and as a means of learning the material.

Advanced Chemistry
The goal of this course is to provide students with the knowledge and skills to investigate chemistry as it relates to their own scientific interests. Students will be introduced to several pieces of advanced laboratory equipment and will more deeply study technology used in previous classes. Mini “DYO” labs are incorporated into the class every six to eight weeks to enable students to design and execute projects that apply the skills we have mastered to areas of personal interest in science. Topics of study include qualitative and quantitative analysis, kinetics, equilibrium, and electrochemistry, as well as more innovative fields such as nanotechnology, polymers, and molecular gastronomy. Assessment in this class is laboratory based and includes a wide range of reporting formats, as well as creative projects. A successful student must be able to work well independently and in close partnerships; demonstrate a strong commitment to safe lab work; and be willing to take intellectual risks in pursuit of creative research.

Advanced Environmental Science
This course will combine students’ physics, chemistry and biology background with new material from Earth and atmospheric science to tackle issues of human-influenced environmental change. Our focus will be on understanding how nature works and on finding solutions to real environmental problems. This class begins with an overview of Earth’s systems (atmosphere, oceans, geology and ecology). We will then turn to ways in which humans have perturbed those systems. Common topics of environmental science include climate change, ozone depletion, declines in biodiversity, damage to particular ecosystems (forests, estuaries, coral reefs, etc.), air and water pollution, energy efficiency and renewable energy, wild species and conservation. Lab work will be heavily weighted toward fieldwork. Our proximity to the Blue Hills, the Neponset River Estuary (the only remaining salt marsh estuary in Boston Harbor), and numerous local wetlands and streams provide an unusually rich natural laboratory for our work. Students should be excited about frequent outdoor fieldwork. Students should have completed physics, chemistry and biology to enroll in this class or have special permission from Ms. Seplaki and the instructor of the course.

Advanced Physics
In this course, students study the physical laws that govern the universe. The class has two components: laboratory work and problem solving. Students will complete weekly problem sets online and weekly lab practicals, designed to allow students to demonstrate what they have learned in a concrete fashion (for example, predicting where a ball shot from a launcher will land). The fall semester is devoted to mechanics (Newton’s Laws of Motion, the Conservation of Momentum and Energy, et al.) and the spring semester is devoted to electricity and magnetism, including electromagnetic induction and Gauss’ law. Students will also work on three long-term labs each semester. We will make use of the calculus that students have learned to explore the laws of physics more thoroughly.

Semester & Half Course Electives

Classes I & II

Students must have credit for two full-year laboratory science courses, or previous credit for one full-year laboratory science course and an additional full-year laboratory course taken concurrently with the elective semester or half courses. Students should be aware that if a required concurrent full-year course is dropped for any reason, the elective course(s) will also have to be dropped.

Observational Astronomy
(Semester 1)
In this course we study all things astronomical, from the life and death of stars to the evolution of the universe, from the solar system to the history of astronomy. Students conduct semester-long projects of their own choosing in consultation with the instructor. In the past, students have observed variable stars, sunspots, the moons of Jupiter, and the setting position of the sun. In the weekly observing sessions, students locate objects discussed in lectures using the Robert C. Ayer double-domed observatory that is equipped with permanently mounted 9- and 12-inch reflecting telescopes as well as several portable telescopes. Students also take pictures of celestial objects using the special cameras provided.

Engineering the Future
(Half Course)
This course introduces students to concepts in engineering, beginning with investigations into structures and the basics of structural analysis. Students will build various structures and then test them in our ADAMET load-testing machine to experimentally verify the concepts of stress, strain, shear and moment. Using this knowledge, students will build skyscrapers as tall and thin (proportionally) as the tallest buildings in the world, then turn them horizontally to test whether they remain in one piece. This tower/cantilever project is followed by a theoretical investigation of how materials fail and an overview of other types of engineering. We conclude with team and individual projects where students evaluate a concept and design improvements.

(Half Course)
Have you ever wondered why Earth is shaped the way it is? Why are there mountains, volcanoes, canyons and coastlines? How have these features been shaped over time? This course is designed to illuminate these questions by giving students a broad understanding of Earth’s many landscapes and the knowledge to interpret Earth’s history through observations of those landscapes. The course begins with a study of the major rock types and the processes of volcanism, mountain building, weathering and erosion that lead to the landscapes we see today. We continue with studies of glaciers, earthquakes, landslides, faults and coastal processes. The theory of plate tectonics unifies many of these topics and is a major component of the course. The School’s proximity to the Blue Hills allows for fieldwork opportunities that will permit students to practice the science of geology.

Science in the Modern Age
(Half Course)
The need for students to be scientifically literate and able to detect bias in the media is critical. Students must not only be informed of current science topics, but they must also be able to critically examine issues at hand. Through a seminar-style format, Class I and II students will be encouraged to examine their basic assumptions about science and will investigate the interplay between science and society. Students may interact with the greater scientific community in a variety of ways, including interviews, guest speakers, and a field trip. Using multimodal assessment, students’ learning will be measured by discussions, reading responses, debates, persuasive and journalistic writing, journaling, presentations, projects and laboratory experiences. With citizens and future voters in mind, this course promotes scientific literacy, critical analysis and good decision-making. Topics could include, but will not be limited to, bioethics, epidemiology, DNA technology, genes and health, forensic science, sustainability, pharmacology, biodiversity, reproductive technology, and medical dilemmas. Students will read current science publications as their primary resource.

Marine Science
(Semester 1 or Semester 2)
This course investigates the biology, ecology and adaptations of marine life, as well as the most recent research in the fields of oceanography. The course will emphasize independent and small-group lab work, research and presentations. Major topics studied will be fundamental oceanography, the fundamental concepts of biology that relate to the marine environment, a survey of marine life, and issues in marine biology, conservation and oceanography. Lab work is an important component of Marine Science. Students will work in the lab every week as they explore the concepts of the course. Additional assignments require students to take advantage of the resources available in Boston, such as the New England Aquarium, lectures at local universities, and visits to local habitats. Lab work includes comparative anatomy done through dissection and direct observation of live, preserved and fossil plants and animals.

Human Anatomy and Physiology
(Semester 1 or Semester 2)
Human Anatomy and Physiology challenges students with a variety of approaches geared toward developing a strong fundamental understanding of the structure and functioning of the human body. Classroom discussions emphasize physiological concepts, with special attention to the anatomical features of the system being studied. The course begins with an overview of cellular anatomy and physiology. The systems addressed over the course of the semester typically include the skeletomuscular system, cardiovascular system, lymphatic system, respiratory system, endocrine system and excretory system. Other body systems are touched upon in the context of discussions of the previously mentioned systems. Evaluation for the class is based on participation in class discussions and in group work, in-class and take-home assessments, dissections, and one or two in-class presentations.

Molecular Genetics 1
(Semester 1)
This course educates students about the science and technology of the field of molecular genetics. Students briefly review the basic structure and function of DNA. For the first half of the semester students will isolate, amplify and sequence their TASR38 gene. Students will determine their haplotype and correlate it with their ability to taste a bitter tasting chemical. Students then complete a set of cloning and sequencing protocols of a plant housekeeping gene. After completion of these protocols, students will have the fundamental skills necessary to clone and sequence a gene in the laboratory. Skills developed in the course include nucleic acid extraction, performance and analysis of nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR), electrophoresis, size exclusion chromatography, DNA ligation and bacterial transformation, microbial culturing, and sequencing and bioinformatics. The majority of the work in this class is laboratory-based. (Prerequisite: A course in biology.)

Nuclear Physics
(Semester 1)
This course introduces students to fundamental principles of nuclear physics and their applications in the modern world. We first cover the composition and structure of the nucleus, radioactivity, radioactive decay, and then common nuclear reactions and the energy relationships that drive them. These concepts serve as a foundation for understanding such diverse topics as the radon health hazard, radiometric dating, nuclear weapons (design and proliferation), modern medical imaging and therapeutic techniques and commercial nuclear reactors .Finally, we return to basic science to ask one of the most fundamental questions of all: Where does stuff come from? We will answer this by exploring the processes of nucleosynthesis in stars, which is how all elements beyond helium are created. (Prerequisites: A course in both physics and chemistry.)

Cosmology and Modern Physics
(Semester 2)
Discoveries made during the last 60 years in physics have radically changed our view of the universe. Astronomers and physicists use their understanding of the very small structures of matter, such as quarks, to explain the very large structures, such as the distribution of galaxies in the universe. In this course, students learn about the wave-particle duality of matter, the quark model of matter, elementary particle discovery and classification, the grand unification of forces, the Big Bang theory, black holes, and the end of the universe. (Prerequisites: A course in both physics and chemistry.)

Issues in Environmental Science: Challenges for the Twenty-first Century
(Semester 2)
This class addresses the major environmental challenges that face the world in the 21st century. Perhaps the most pressing global issue is that of climate change, and this course will address the science and politics of climate in some detail. Inextricably linked to climate change is the way in which humanity uses energy. Thus, this course will also address fossil fuel use, nuclear power and renewable energy with its associated emerging technologies (wind, solar, geothermal, hydrogen, tidal). We will also address the concept of sustainability in its environmental-science context. If time permits, the course will touch on issues of human population growth, biodiversity loss, air and water pollution, over-fishing, and other sustainability topics of student interest. Students will be encouraged to participate in the ongoing efforts to make Milton Academy more sustainable. (Prerequisite: A course in both physics and chemistry.)

Molecular Genetics 2
(Semester 2)
This course is designed to follow Molecular Genetics I. Using the fundamental laboratory and analytical skills developed in their first semester, students will engage in class-designed and student-designed molecular biology research projects. These will require a good understanding of molecular biology and of laboratory techniques. Some projects may facilitate connections with the greater scientific community. Students should be interested in working on long-term projects and working in the laboratory. Students will be required to present their work at the Science Symposium at the end of the semester. (Prerequisite: A course in biology AND Molecular Genetics 1.)

Organic Chemistry 1
(Semester 1)
Enter the world of medicines and plastics, of skunk spray and gasoline, of steroids and sugars. Enter the world of organic chemistry—the chemistry of carbon! This challenging course will focus on the fundamentals of organic chemistry and will include an introduction to molecular structure, stereochemistry, and the mechanisms of synthesis reactions. These fundamental ideas will be exemplified in discussions revolving around relevant synthetic molecules as well as important, naturally occurring biological entities. To deepen their understanding of the course material, students will be expected to participate in, and ultimately drive, laboratory experiments exploiting an inquiry-based learning approach. In total, knowledge gained from this class will equip the students with the critical rudiments in organic chemistry, a common collegiate requirement for science and engineering, pre-medicine, pre-dentistry, and pre-pharmacy majors. (Prerequisite: a course in chemistry and biology; biology may be taken concurrently.)

Organic Chemistry 2
(Semester 2)
This course is designed to follow Organic Chemistry 1. This installment will cover new and exciting synthetic reactions and mechanisms and will also introduce the analytical techniques of infrared and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. These tools will increase the breadth of the projects students will encounter, both at the Harkness table and in the laboratory. (Prerequisite: A course in chemistry and biology; biology may be taken concurrently. Students must also have completed Organic Chemistry 1.)

Futurology: Science Fiction to Science Fact
(Half Course)
Science fiction often predicts scientific and technological advances years before they exist: tablets, earbuds, virtual reality, persistent surveillance, cybercrime, cloning, climate change and human space travel were all described decades before they were observed. Futurology uses science fiction as a structure to investigate emerging science and technology, debate ethical issues raised, and imagine how science and technology could evolve in the future—for good or for bad.

Themes of this class include Machines (robots/androids/cyborgs, AI, virtual reality, the singularity and cybercrime), Humans (genetic engineering, cloning, xenotransplants, drugs and zombies), Aliens (space and time travel, evolution, aliens and religion in science) and The End (climate change, meteors, solar flares, volcanos, nuclear war, and technology’s revenge) with room left for topics of special interest to students. The curriculum combines novels and short stories with current scientific research, field trips, podcasts, TED talks, movies, and television. Grades are based on online and in-class discussion and projects.

We will begin this course by venturing into the scientific study of the brain with a focus on the anatomical structures of the brain and their functions. We will follow with in-depth exploration of neuronal communication. We will explore concepts in sensation, neuroplasticity, learning and memory. As we finish the course, these topics will be applied to investigation of mental health disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. A few relevant dissections and labs will be performed. As this is an ever changing field, students will learn to read and investigate scientific literature in the latter part of the course to understand the most recent theories and latest pharmacological interventions for what we study. (Prerequisite: A course in biology.)

Introduction to Aerodynamics
(Half Course)
In this course students will explore what makes airplanes work: from lift, thrust and drag to control surfaces, stalls and spins. We will cover the conceptual framework for flight as well as the theoretical basis for unconventional aircraft like the Piaggio Avanti and Burt Rutan’s canard aircraft. Students will build wing-in-ground effect models to explore the difference between pressure and lift and work toward a major project in the spring: designing a 21st-century ERCoupe, an airplane with simplified controls meant to appeal to a wider flying market. Students will evaluate their design ideas by building a flying model of their aircraft.