Select Page

Science Courses

science class 23

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.

Physics: Class IV
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 activities and experiments are inquiry-based, which allows students to experience physics phenomena firsthand and learn to draw conclusions from data. Topics covered may include kinematics, Newton’s Laws of Motion, energy, electricity, and magnetism. These topics, taught in combination with fundamental science inquiry skills, will prepare Class IV students for higher-level science courses. Students culminate their work in Class IV Physics by conducting an independent, self-designed experiment. Students research a topic of interest to them, investigate this topic in depth with guidance from the instructor, develop questions, and create and conduct an experiment to test their hypotheses.

Classes I, II, & III
Physics is a full-year survey course in general physics. Topics covered in the first semester include kinematics, Newton’s Laws of Motion, circular motion, and momentum. The semester will culminate with a comprehensive written examination. The second semester includes the study of energy, waves, sound, and electricity. Students will use both qualitative and quantitative methods to develop understanding of these fundamental concepts, with an emphasis on problem-solving techniques. Assigned laboratory activities reinforce and/or expand on the concepts discussed in class and stress the experimental procedures of science. Many of these labs use an inquiry-based approach. Students will complete their physics experience by creating, proposing, and conducting an individual design-your-own experimental project in place of a final examination. This course provides solid preparation for students to move on to other science courses.

Classes I, II, & III
Chemistry is a full-year course in general chemistry. Topics include an introduction of the study of matter, measurement, atomic theory, stoichiometry, gas laws, nomenclature, and equilibria. The curriculum is skills-centered, emphasizing student mastery of problem-solving methods in the laboratory and the classroom. Moreover, the symbiosis of applying qualitative and quantitative analysis facilitates proficiency in the laboratory through the inquiry method. Students will find that formal lab investigations become progressively more inquiry-driven. Laboratory work culminates in the design-your-own independent lab project.

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

Classes I & II, or with permission of the department chair
Biology is the study of life. Designed to follow a course in chemistry, the broad themes we will cover include evolution, ecology and energetics, genetics, heredity, and molecular biology. In the classroom and in experimental settings, students will learn to navigate the question of how we know something, with significant work on understanding graphs and the conclusions we can draw from these. We also strive to highlight and contextualize current issues, including climate change, nutrition and health, infectious disease, skin color, and race. As the year progresses, we emphasize major recurrent themes across units, including energy, how chemistry influences living organisms, and evolution. Laboratory work builds through the year to become progressively more inquiry-driven, culminating in a design-your-own independent lab project.

Biology (Honors)
Classes I & II
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 biochemistry, 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). (Prerequisites: A course in chemistry and permission of the department chair.)


Advanced Courses in Science

Class I or with permission of the department chair
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 the department chair. Students may take Advanced Physics or Advanced Chemistry concurrently with Biology (Honors) with permission from the department chair. If a student chooses to move out of Biology (Honors) for any reason, they will be required to drop the advanced course being taken concurrently. All full-year science courses at Milton Academy qualify as laboratory courses. If students have taken courses at other institutions, they should contact the Registrar’s Office and the department chair, who will determine whether they can receive credit for that work. All students in Advanced Courses in Science will be required to present at our 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. Students will study cell signaling and prokaryotic gene expression, and 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 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, evolution of biofilms in bacteria, genome sequencing, and behavior of c. elegans. Students will practice laboratory techniques necessary in the study of 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 advanced laboratory equipment and will more deeply study technology used in previous classes. Mini design-your-own 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 kinetics, equilibrium, acids and bases, and electrochemistry. Assessment in this class comprises problem sets and laboratory work. It 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
The study of environmental science is driven by the relationship between humans and the natural environment. In this class, students will explore this relationship using an interdisciplinary approach that builds on students’ science backgrounds with new material from Earth system science. Our focus is on understanding how nature works, and on finding solutions to real environmental problems through the “doing” of real science. Coursework is heavily weighted toward fieldwork, and as such, students should be excited about frequent outdoor field activities. 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 learning resource. In recent years, this course has focused on a long-term ecological monitoring study of a local ecosystem in collaboration with the Neponset River Watershed Association, a local watershed authority.

Advanced Physics
In Advanced Physics, students study Newtonian Mechanics in the fall and waves in the winter. With weekly problem sets, students develop a fluency in problem-solving skills. Students are challenged with practical application of the laws they have learned by predicting where a projectile will land, how springs interact, or where a ball will go after it collides with another, etc. In the winter, students investigate the wave nature of light and sound, culminating with the construction of their own musical instrument. In the spring, students conduct a self-designed experiment and present their findings to students in other advanced classes.

Disease Biophysics: Understanding the Science of Maladaptation
Innovative solutions to the world’s foremost problems frequently lie at the interface of science disciplines. Perhaps unsurprisingly, to understand the mechanisms that drive leading causes of disease, one must integrate foundational concepts of biology, chemistry, and physics. Mechanical forces drive cellular organization and architecture, communication, and subsequent functional output; structure and function. But how can our understanding of conceptual physics, chemistry, and biology elucidate the processes that drive maladaptive states such as cardiac arrhythmia and atherosclerosis, cancer, and traumatic brain injury? Further, how can we model and test our understanding in the laboratory? In Disease Biophysics, we will explore these questions together as we deconstruct real patient case studies in order to dissect disease pathologies. Students can expect to cultivate a dynamic skill set as they visualize, synthesize, and communicate disease models to understand systemic implications of cellular maladaptation. Proactive collaboration, creative problem-solving, and robust literature review will prove central to students’ learning process. An evolving student portfolio will provide the primary mode of assessment and will serve to demonstrate both depth of understanding and competency in transferring knowledge to disease contexts by way of student-generated modeling and lab-based experimentation. (Prerequisites: A full year of biology, chemistry, and physics, and permission of the department chair are required.)


Science 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.

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 an in-depth exploration of neuronal communication. Topics will be applied through investigation of stress and relaxation, addiction, 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 to understand the most recent theories and latest pharmacological interventions for what we study. (Prerequisite: A course in biology.)

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. Students in A&P participate in frequent group work, including case studies and dissections. Classroom discussions focus primarily on physiological concepts and the functional anatomy 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 group work (case studies, dissections, presentations), in-class assessments, graded homework assignments, and an end-of-semester exam.

Issues in Environmental Science: Solutions for a Sustainable Future
(Semester 1 or Semester 2)
The world faces a number of urgent environmental issues such as human population growth, air and water pollution, and climate change. While many of these topics seem overwhelming, all can be addressed with existing or emerging technologies ranging from the obvious (e.g., renewable energy, urban farming, and electric vehicles) to the futuristic (e.g., lab-grown meat, floating cities, and geoengineering). This course will cover environmental science fundamentals and move to the development of practical solutions based on that science. By investigating changes that we can make on a personal or local level, students will gain insight into how to affect change on the national and global stage. The curriculum uses traditional classroom discussion, student presentations, current scientific literature, and interaction with professionals in the environmental field, as well as podcasts, TED talks, and other media to give students a variety of perspectives.

Marine Science
(Semester 1 or Semester 2)
This course investigates the biology, ecology, and adaptations of marine life, as well as the most recent and intriguing research in this content area. The course emphasizes independent and small-group lab work, research into current topics, and presentations of these investigations. Major topics studied will be biological oceanography, the fundamental concepts of biology that relate to the marine environment, a survey of marine life, and important, timely issues in marine science. Lab work is a key component of this course, as students will work in the lab every week exploring the concepts of the course. Additional assignments require students to take advantage of the resources available in the area, such as the New England Aquarium, and visits to local marine and estuarine habitats. Lab work includes comparative anatomy done through dissection and direct observation of live marine animals.

History and Philosophy of Science
(Semester 1)
We have all heard the claim that we are living in the ‘post-truth age’ and are all familiar with the phrase “alternative facts.” Climate change denialism and vaccine skepticism pose serious risks to current and future generations. And scientists in particular are experiencing the erosion of their social trust and expert authority, with some being literally threatened by conspiracy theorists. This History and Philosophy of Science class gives students an opportunity to consider what sets the scientific method apart as a reliable way to produce knowledge, and what might be behind the current crisis of legitimation. We will survey the history of how philosophers and scientists have attempted to answer the ‘question of demarcation’, meaning what distinguishes science from pseudoscience, as well as from other non-scientific theories and practices; we will also consider the history of bioethics, (dis)trust in science, and attempts to make science more inclusive, socially responsible, and politically accountable. Students will be expected to complete readings of, and written responses to, primary and secondary sources, and engage in vibrant class discussion. Guest speakers, including local intellectuals and activists, and field trips, such as to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, will be a part of the course as well.

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.

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.)

Molecular Genetics 1
(Semester 1)
This course educates students about the science and technology of the field of molecular biology. Students briefly review the basic structure and function of DNA. Students will work on a number of projects, including the genetics of sleep chronotype, analysis of their TASR38 gene, which controls the ability to taste a bitter compound, and synthetic biology. After completion of these protocols, students will have the fundamental skills necessary to do PCR, gel electrophoresis, bioinformatic analysis of DNA sequences, and analysis of molecular biology data. The majority of the work in this class is laboratory-based. (Prerequisite: A course in biology.)

Molecular Genetics 2
(Semester 2)
Molecular Genetics 2 is a laboratory course where students apply the skills, techniques, and knowledge learned in Molecular Genetics 1 to explore molecular cloning of GAPDH genes and bioinformatics. Topics change periodically depending on student interest and skills. Several topics provide opportunities to engage with professional researchers in the Boston area. Students should be interested in planning and conducting long-term projects in the lab. Students may present their work at the Science Symposium at the conclusion of the second semester pending review of their GAPDH project. (Prerequisites: A course in biology and Molecular Genetics 1.)

Organic Chemistry 1
(Semester 1)
This challenging course will focus on the fundamentals of organic chemistry and will include an introduction to molecular structure, organic acid-base chemistry, and stereochemistry. These fundamental ideas will be exemplified in discussions involving relevant synthetic molecules ,as well as important, naturally occurring biological entities. To deepen their understanding of the course material, students are expected to participate in 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. (Prerequisites: A course in chemistry and biology; biology may be taken concurrently.)

Organic Chemistry 2
(Semester 2)
This course is designed to directly follow and build upon the content from Organic Chemistry 1. Specifically, students will garner a thorough understanding of both substitution and elimination reactions and their respective mechanisms. This knowledge will then be utilized and thought exercises aimed at predicting product formation from a given set of reactants, as well as deliberate molecular design. The semester in Organic Chemistry 2 concludes with a major project in which students will profile a complex, biologically relevant organic molecule of their choosing. (Prerequisites: A course in chemistry and biology; biology may be taken concurrently, and Organic Chemistry 1.)

Engineering the Future
(Half Course)
The Engineering the Future course welcomes intrepid thinkers to engage in imagining new and exciting ways to design a world that better serves all of its inhabitants. Students will spend their time studying a myriad of engineering disciplines. In civil engineering, we will build many structures with each design restraint more stringent than the last. In electrical engineering, students will learn about Ohm’s Law and Krichhoff’s Laws. They will then learn how to wire up integrated circuits. Later, students will study mechanical engineering by learning how to design and build products using computer-aided drawing and the 3-D printer. Finally, students will delve into the realm of chemical engineering, using the design skills they’ve developed to assess energy or fluid transfer in a system. In addition to a basic understanding of engineering design principles, this course aims to develop important life skills. These skills include the ability to assess a task, design a product, collaborate with others, problem solve, be open to others’ ideas, think critically about our own ideas, and present one’s observations and conclusions clearly.

(Half Course)
Have you ever wondered about how rocks form, and what stories can they tell us about the Earth’s history? Why are there mountains, canyons, and coastlines, and how have these features formed over time? What are volcanoes and earthquakes, and how do we know if we’re living in an area that might be prone to natural disasters? This course is designed to introduce students to the world of geology, including the Earth’s history, composition, and structure; minerals and rocks; and the major Earth processes that have shaped (and continue to shape) the surface of our planet over its 4.6 billion year history. Plate tectonic theory is a theme central to the course: mountains and rivers, geologic hazards, weather and climate, and even the evolution of life on Earth are intimately linked to this theory. Another overarching theme will be exploring the relationship between humans and geology, defined by our place in geologic time: the Anthropocene. The study of geology is, at its core, a field science. The proximity of Milton to the Blue Hills, in addition to other local resources, provides unique field opportunities to learn about major rock types, earth processes like weathering and erosion, and glacial processes, as well as the human impact. As such, students should be eager to participate in regular outdoor fieldwork that promotes the learning and practice 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 and consider multiple perspectives. 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, and projects. 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, public health, epidemiology, DNA technology, genes and health, forensic science, sustainability, pharmacology, biodiversity, reproductive technology, and medical dilemmas. Students will utilize current science publications, podcasts, and videos as their primary resources.

Scientific Drawing and Illustration
(Half Course)
Creating imagery while learning about science can be influential in students’ learning. The craft of looking closely at the world and sharing those observations through illustration requires exposure to nature and the development of tools and strategies to visually represent experiences. This process can also engender responsible stewardship for our planet and a greater connection to the facts of the world around us. This course will provide opportunities for student-centered investigations utilizing active focused observation, questioning the meaning behind observed phenomena, and developing habits of nature drawing and journaling.