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Science

Groton offers a spectrum of courses in the life and physical sciences. These fields are presented as dynamic and subject to rigorous testing and revision, as has been reflected in the histories of each discipline. Instructors are aware that those histories have not been inclusive and therefore take pains to describe past omissions and to explicitly promote diversity in current investigators and future practitioners of their respective disciplines.

Teaching of subject content is balanced with work in the laboratory, in the field, and on the computer and is designed to hone the students’ analytical prowess and to foster an appreciation for the experimental and collaborative nature of science. Our goal is that all students gain, over the course of their Groton careers, significant exposure to key STEM skills and habits, and our continued curriculum evolution recognizes the inclusion of these skills and habits as a selective force.
 
Second Formers have a special science course tailored to their form. Third Formers generally take ecology or biology. Upper Schoolers take various levels of chemistry, biology, environmental science, ecology, and physics.

Students who feel that they have already taken the science course suggested for their form should write to the Science Department head by May 1 and include a description of their course syllabus and the name of their text. The Department will determine the most appropriate course assignment for the student and may administer a placement test to provide additional data for its decision.
  • Advanced Ecology (Lab) (Y)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth and Fourth Formers. Prerequisite: students who have completed a year of physical science. Students in Advanced Ecology study the relationships within ecosystems and explore various models to explain the current structure of different natural communities. The course begins with an intense study of several vegetative community types which occur within the Town of Groton, with students learning the dominant plant species and sampling small mammal, reptile and amphibian populations. Working in both upland and wetland systems, students are exposed to different experimental designs, sampling procedures and methods of data analysis. Incorporating Global Positioning System (GPS) technology into a Geographic Information System (GIS), students will analyze the data collected in the field for spatial patterns and will use statistical analysis to explore the relationships between patterns of distribution and their underlying habitat variables. Mathematical models of these patterns will be developed and used as the basis for prediction of the occurrence and abundance of different species. In the winter we will study Conservation Biology, beginning with the study of Population Dynamics and moving into Population Viability Analysis and the design of nature preserves. We will discuss the rationale for the preservation of biodiversity and mechanisms of sustainable development of natural resources. In the spring, students return to the field to look at the effects of climate change on our local ecosystems and to study the vulnerability of different groups to the changing patterns. Advanced Ecology is a technologically intensive course, relying on data analysis and the development of computer models for all topics. Enrollment is limited to 14 students.

  • Advanced Physics: Electricity and Magnetism (F,W)

    This course will prepare students who have completed Advanced Physics (5620) to take the Level C AP examination in Electricity and Magnetism in May. Doing so will entail conducting extensive experiments as well as completing regular problem sets in order to learn how experimentation and the techniques of calculus can be used to explore classical electromagnetism.
  • Advanced Physics: Mechanics (Lab) (Y)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers, Fourth Formers in Calculus. Corequisites: Calculus A or B. During two lecture/discussion periods, one problem-solving period and one laboratory sessions each week, students will learn how experimentation and the techniques of calculus can be used to explore classical mechanics. Time will also be spent examining topics in electromagnetism that have much in common with the mechanical systems studied. Techniques of integration and differentiation will be introduced as needed so students need not have previously completed a course in calculus. Regular assignments will include both problem sets and written laboratory reports. Students who do well in this course will be encouraged to take the Level C AP examination in Mechanics in May.
  • AP Biology (Lab) (Y)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Prerequisites: Ecology or Biology and Physics or Chemistry. These prerequisites may be waived with departmental permission for students of demonstrated ability. In addition, all students who take this course must take the AP Biology Examination in May. AP Biology is comparable to a college freshman biology course in both content and rigor.
     
    This course will follow the AP syllabus as closely as possible and will cover both class and laboratory components. The lab work includes the completion of the 12 required labs and allows investigation of classic and current lab technique. The labs will utilize computer interfaces, specialized software, and rigorous data collection. Major topics covered will include cell anatomy, physiology and biochemistry, heredity and genetics, comparative animal physiology and evolution. Students will complete one presentation that requires them to become conversant with current scientific literature and recent advances/discoveries. Scientific journal readings and discussions will also be utilized to expose students to techniques and protocols prevalent in recent research.
  • AP Chemistry (Lab) (Y)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Formers. Prerequisites: Introductory Chemistry or equivalent and a strong math background with at least concurrent enrollment in Honors Algebra II. This course will prepare the student for the AP Chemistry Examination which is taken by all who are enrolled in the course and is designed to be the equivalent of the university-level General Chemistry. Students will also be well prepared for the SAT II Chemistry subject test at the completion of this course.

    The course uses a spiraling curriculum allowing the students to continually expand their understanding of the topics studied. There is a robust laboratory component to the course. The laboratory and class lecture topics are intentionally designed to complement each other. The lab curriculum allows the students to expand their experience with evidence-based conclusions.
     
  • Astronomy (F)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. In 1920, leading astronomers gathered in Washington, DC, to attend a debate entitled “The Scale of the Universe.” In 1996, astronomers filled the same hall in Washington to witness another debate entitled “The Scale of the Universe.” Seventy-six years of observational evidence in the interim had completely altered our models of the structure of the universe and shifted the basis for the debate, but to this day, competing methods for establishing the distance scale of the universe yield conflicting results. This scale is essential to almost all models of the history and fate of the universe. Becoming an educated member of the greater audience to this ongoing debate requires acquiring a basic understanding of the structure of the universe and the physical principles governing its evolution.
     
    This course will focus on the dynamics of stellar evolution and stellar systems in order to establish an understanding of objects (including variable stars, planetary nebulae, supernovae and galaxies) that are used as distance indicators in contemporary research. Competing measurement techniques will be studied during four class meetings per week and one evening lab session, during which students will become familiar with the night sky and the rich variety of objects that can be observed through a small telescope.
  • Biochemistry - The Chemistry of Metabolism (F)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Prerequisites: Honors Chemistry or AP Chemistry. Students may contact the instructor to ask for a waiver from the listed prerequisites. How does life on Earth transform and manipulate energy to grow and reproduce? In biochemistry, we address this question by exploring the biosynthetic pathways involved in the metabolism of sugars, in order to deepen our understanding of the thermodynamic, structural, and mechanistic properties that govern life at a molecular level. We will accomplish this endeavor by examining the nature and mechanisms of cellular reactions. As proteins are integral to all biochemical pathways, we will begin the term by looking at the structure and function of proteins, and then progress to studying the properties of enzymes, kinetic analysis and carbohydrate metabolism. In the second half of the term, we will complete sugar metabolism and explore the chemical basis for metabolic regulation.
  • Biology (Lab) (Y)

    Open to Third Formers. This survey course emphasizes diversity within and convergence among all kingdoms at the molecular, biochemical and organismal levels. Evolution by natural selection is fundamental to describing the morphology, physiology, and ecology of the biosphere and its components, and is at the core of this discipline. In the laboratory, we teach quantitative analysis, laboratory technique, and presentation. It is used to enrich the topics that are presented in lecture. During the Winter Term, students perform a thorough dissection of the fetal pig.

  • Chemistry (H) (Lab) (Y)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth and Fourth Formers. Introductory Chemistry and Introductory Chemistry (Honors) will follow the same general progression of topics, but Honors students will be expected to be more comfortable with and adept in mathematical analysis. The Honors course moves at a faster pace in order to allow time to explore topics in greater depth so that the fundamental chemistry concepts and skills can be applied to contemporary topics. Students in the Honors course will be strong candidates for AP Chemistry. Enrollment in the Honors course is subject to the approval of the Science Department.
     
  • Chemistry (Lab) (Y)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth and Fourth Formers. Chemistry is a subject concerned with energy and the properties of matter. The introductory course emphasizes problem solving. By combining molecular visualization and mathematical analysis with laboratory experience, students work individually and in small groups to solve problems ranging from the design of molecules that serve as therapeutic agents for diseases, to the design of instruments that measure the amount of heat energy released in combustion reactions. Topics covered include: atomic and molecular structure, solution chemistry, properties of the liquid, solid and gaseous states of matter, nuclear chemistry, thermochemistry, kinetics, quantum mechanics, organic chemistry and chemical reactivity. The laboratory component of the course emphasizes analytical chemistry skills and scientific communication.
  • Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Forms. Coursework in Biology required; experience in/concurrent enrollment in an advanced science course preferred. Hands on dissection required. All vertebrates share a common ancestor. The study of anatomy and physiology through the thorough dissection of an organism can reveal the similarities and important differences that have developed between distantly related animals. Through dissection, the student will gain an understanding of anatomy and physiology and learn to make inferences regarding the evolution of anatomical structures. The class time will primarily be devoted to dissection of one aquatic and one terrestrial animal; students will be expected to learn the techniques necessary for careful, precise dissection. Outside of the classroom, students will investigate the history of the dissected organisms and read articles relevant to the discipline of comparative vertebrate anatomy. Students will be assessed through lab practicals and a final project. Limited to ten students.
  • Cosmology - The Night Sky and the Evolution of the Universe (S)

    Open without prerequisite to Sixth and Fifth Formers. At the turn of the 20th century, most scientists believed that the Milky Way was alone in the universe. Then, in 1923, Edwin Hubble proved that the bright smudge in the sky known as Andromeda is a complete spiral galaxy of its own, drastically changing the scale of our known universe. Six years later, Hubble demonstrated that the universe is expanding, that it has a past and a future very different from its present. Since then, cosmologists have uncovered billions of other galaxies that are part of our 14,000,000,000-year-old universe. Discoveries in the past century have helped us better understand how the universe has evolved to a state that allows for our existence. 
    We will begin with an overview of the night sky and a brief historical survey of humankind’s quest to understand our universe. We will focus more closely on the 20th century discoveries that have led to major revisions in our models and raised new questions that are at the center of 21st century cosmological research. Class will include some evening lab sessions, as long as pandemic restrictions will allow. These evenings will be chilly in March, but well worth it! Through a small telescope, we’ll be observing objects we discuss in class such as star clusters, nebulae, and other galaxies.
  • Ecology (Lab) (Y)

    Open to Third Formers. This course begins with the study of ecosystem dynamics and energetics, looking at species interactions and the flow of energy through ecosystems. Field studies of the goldenrod and leaf litter communities will provide the basis for exploring these ideas through the development of models and the analysis of the patterns seen in the field. In the winter we will turn our attention to the study of evolution focused on the two billion year history of humans and their ancestors. At the end of the winter we will discuss more recent human evolution and the dramatic effects that our species has caused on the planet. During the spring we will explore sustainability and the issues associated with providing food and water for a human population that will likely exceed 10 billion people and the effects that this will have on the Earth’s climate and natural ecosystems. The course is highly quantitative and computers are used to develop models and to collect and to analyze data for all topics.

  • Engineering Analysis (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers who have taken or are currently taking a full-year course in physics. This course introduces the many fields of engineering and the roles of these disciplines in our society. The course is centered around a group project that will follow the engineering design process. Topics covered in the first term of physics will be revisited and expanded upon. Depending upon the particular project, the class will cover different aspects of introductory level statics, material and section properties, loading and design standards. Engineering is not limited to design, so a part of the project will also include performing a cost analysis and exploring constructability and feasibility. In addition, an important theme throughout the course will be an awareness of professional ethics involved in engineering and design.
     
  • Engineering and the Design Process (F)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers who have taken a full-year laboratory science course in the upper school. The course will be centered on group projects as students learn the engineering design process starting from the identification of a need all the way to prototyping in the fabrications laboratory. The class will be learning and progressing through the design process as they take on projects within the community. The students will be able to work on real-world projects with the potential of having important and valuable input during the projects’ design. There will be a significant fabrication component to the course as ideas and designs will become prototypes and solutions as the student familiarize themselves with material properties, including cost, and construction methods In addition, this course introduces the many fields of engineering and the roles of these disciplines in our society. Throughout the course, an important interlaced theme will be to develop an awareness of professional ethics in engineering and design.
  • Environmental Chemistry (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Prerequisite: any previous Chemistry course. The course opens with the basic principles of Green chemistry. The discussion of “good ozone” which serves as our filter against harmful UV-C and UV-B rays is juxtaposed against the discussion of “bad ozone” in smog production. The greenhouse effect as well as the enhanced greenhouse phenomenon (some refer to the latter as “global warming” implicated in climate change) follows next. We will then discuss the use of fossil fuels, their role in the production of smog and increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. The discussion turns next to the replacement of leaded gasoline by the addition of MTBE, ethanol and related oxygenates to reduce smog. Attention is turned next to the search for sustainable ways, including purification methods, to bring potable water to exploding populations in the developing world. The pros and cons of the roles of chlorine, ozone and reverse osmosis in the purification of water are compared.
  • Environmental Science (Lab) (Y)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Formers. Environmental Science will explore the relationship between the human population, the physical environment, and its resources. The fall term will be devoted to the study of our natural environment, including the biogeochemical cycles that support ecosystems and ocean-atmosphere interactions. In the winter and spring terms, we will discuss human activities that cause damage to the environment at both local and global scales, such as urbanization, overpopulation, pollution, and climate change, and how we can start to mitigate the deleterious effects of such activities. Throughout the year, students will be engaged in laboratory work; in the spring, students will carry out ongoing field work and data analysis around the campus to shed light on the anthropogenic impacts on our local ecosystem. Enrollment is limited to 16 students, and preference will be given to students who have completed a year of physical science.
  • Experimental Biochemistry (Lab) (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Prerequisites: Biochemistry and/or Molecular Biology. Experimental biochemistry is a lab intensive course. Students will act as independent researchers focusing on a specific research topic for the duration of the term. Topics will range from synthetic biology (constructing novel proteins and/or genetic logic circuits) to biochemistry (cloning, purifying and characterizing the biological activity of transcription factors in vitro). The laboratory research workflow techniques employed in this course will follow laboratory research performed in colleges and universities. Students will learn the research standard for maintaining a laboratory notebook. Biweekly lab meeting presentations and an end of term project presentation will serve as the major assessments.
  • Human Physiology - Locomotion (F)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Prerequisites: a life science class; chemistry or physics suggested. Human anatomy and physiology will be covered with emphasis on the systems that allow locomotion to occur: muscles, joints and the skeleton. The text will be supplemented with computer-based resources,case studies and projects.
  • Human Physiology - Metabolism and Regulation (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Prerequisites: a life science class; chemistry or physics suggested. Human anatomy and physiology will be covered with emphasis on the major organ systems. The text will be supplemented with the ever-expanding menu of anatomical computer-based resources, case studies and projects. Students will write short focus papers that allow further investigation into the systems we cover. Group work is also an important component of this course.
  • Modern Physics (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers who have taken or are taking a full-year course in physics. This course will trace the development of modern physics through the 20th Century, beginning with the quantum hypothesis proposed by Max Planck in 1900 and concluding with contemporary research. Topics covered will include quantum theory, special relativity and particle physics. These areas will be approached mathematically where possible, but the primary focus will be on tracing the development of intricate theories and understanding how they inform and alter the way we view the world around us.
  • Molecular Biology (Lab) (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Prerequisites: AP Biology or Honors Chemistry/AP Chemistry. Students may contact the instructor to ask for a waiver from the listed prerequisites. The central dogma biology refers to the role of nucleic acids in the storage and transmission of information in biological systems. In this course, we will examine the molecular mechanisms by which DNA, RNA, and proteins interact and the research that lead to our current understanding of how biological information allows life to adapt and evolve.
  • Organic Chemistry 1 (F)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Prerequisite: Completion of AP Chemistry. This course introduces many of the basic reactions and concepts students will encounter in their future studies of chemistry, biology, or medicine. Rather than covering a large number of reactions, as might happen in a second-year (full year) college organic chemistry course, this course emphasizes an understanding of general principles of reactivity and mechanism. The classroom work is supplemented by demonstrations through which students learn some of the fundamental tools of this highly empirical science. In addition, each student gains detailed knowledge of an area of active research related to organic chemistry. After selecting a topic of interest, each student prepares a paper and a class seminar, using current scientific literature. This course may require more than the standard four to five hours per week of homework.
  • Organic Chemistry 2 (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Forms. Prerequisite is Organic Chemistry 1. The course will be a continuation of the first Organic Chemistry class, focusing on pericyclic and named reactions. Students will be expected to give an extensive presentation on an aspect of physical organic chemistry.
  • Physics (Lab) (Y)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Prerequisite: Algebra 2. This is a full year course with two or three lecture/discussion periods and one or two laboratory sessions per week. The course is designed to familiarize students with the principles of classical physics that govern our everyday experiences. Topics will include Newtonian mechanics, wave behavior and electricity and magnetism. Material will be ap­proached from both conceptual and mathematical perspec­tives. Course work will include regular problem sets and laboratory experiments summarized in written reports.
  • Second Form Science (Y)

    This course is designed as a hands-on, inquiry-based course that challenges students to make connections across the various scientific disciplines while developing their observational, analytical and quantitative skills to better understand the physical world. This course combines the key elements of the physical science, chemistry, biology and ecology disciplines in the context of our modern environment to prepare students for more advanced science courses. Science skills such as keeping a laboratory notebook, taking accurate laboratory measurements, the understanding, interpretation and presentation of laboratory data, using the metric system and making useful conversions between measurements are emphasized and visited throughout the course.

Our Faculty

  • Photo of Stephen Belsky
    Stephen Belsky
    Science Department Head, Kendall W. Foster Chair in the Sciences
    978-448-7558
    Bio
  • Photo of David Black
    David Black
    Geoffrey deC. Gund '60 Teaching Chair
    978-448-7410
    Bio
  • Photo of Andrew Evans
    Andrew Evans
    Physics Fellow
    Bio
  • Photo of Albert Hall
    Albert Hall
    James F. McClelland, Jr. and Paul Wright Teaching Chair
    978-448-7653
    Bio
  • Photo of Alison Hamlin
    Alison Hamlin
    Dorm Head
    978-448-7387
    Bio
  • Claire Hawkins
    Physics Fellow
  • Photo of Sandra Kelly
    Sandra Kelly
    Dorm Head, W. Homer and Helena P. Smith Chair in Chemistry
    978-448-7649
    Bio
  • Photo of Nathan Lamarre-Vincent
    Nathan Lamarre-Vincent
    Dorm Head
    978-448-7536
    Bio
  • Photo of Judy Lebet
    Judy Lebet
    STEM Facility Manager/Laboratory Technician
    978-448-7609
  • Photo of Temba Maqubela
    Temba Maqubela
    Headmaster, Science
    978-448-7501
    Bio
  • Photo of Paula Marks
    Paula Marks
    978-448-7647
    Bio
  • Photo of David Prockop
    David Prockop
    Lathrop Brown Chair
    978-448-7380
    Bio