Science I & II

Science I and Science II

These courses are a two-year integrated sequence of biology, chemistry, and physics. We will explore the fundamental concepts of energy, chemical, and physical properties of matter, electricity, chemical reactions, biochemistry, cell biology, physiology, evolution, and ecology. Current issues in science will be used to establish a sound foundation in science while highlighting the links between disciplines. In doing so, students will acquire skills in laboratory techniques, critical thinking, the scientific process, and the philosophy and theory of science. Students will learn to write lab reports, translate scientific inquiry into experimental design, and apply mathematical problem-solving to scientific analysis. In the process, students will become informed about current developments in science.

Accelerated Science II

This course covers all of the topics of Science II at an accelerated pace and a greater level of depth. Additional topics may be included. Prerequisite: Science I and Consent of the Department. (Honors)

General Electives

Evolutionary Biology

The principles of evolution undergird our understanding of biological diversity, adaptations, and the history of life on Earth. Indeed, biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” In this semester-long course, we will first delve into the evolution of evolutionary thought in human history, including the theorists who influenced Darwin and Wallace. We will utilize principles of microevolution to show mathematically that evolution has occurred by analyzing changes in allele frequencies in populations, and we will examine the agents of evolutionary change (of which natural selection is just one). We will then scale up these processes to examine long-term macroevolutionary patterns of speciation and extinction, using paleontological data to support our conclusions. Finally, we will explore human evolution, discussing what our species has in common with our extant primate relatives, and what makes us unique. The semester will culminate in a laboratory exercise in which we will extract and amplify our own DNA in order to elucidate patterns of human migration. Prerequisite: Completion of Science I and II or Consent of Instructor. (Fall or spring semester)

Experimental Chemistry

This course investigates fundamental chemistry concepts through frequent experimentation. Topics covered include chemical bonding, reaction stoichiometry, solution chemistry and colligative properties, chemical equilibrium, acid-base chemistry, and oxidation and reduction. This course is a prerequisite for Advanced Chemistry. Prerequisite: Completion of Science I and II or Consent of Instructor. (Fall or spring semester)


Kinesiology is the study of human mechanics, motion, and the interaction of body systems to create the complex motions that you have seen in everything from sports to day-to-day walks down the street. In this class, we will investigate and learn about the components of the body structures (cells and tissues) and focus on the major systems that relate to human motion (integumentary system, skeletal system, muscle systems, and basic nerve function). We will identify all the bones and bone features in the human body as well as major muscle group origin, insertion, and actions. We will learn about major types of motion and practice describing how motions occur in various activities and sports. This class is designed for students with an interest in anatomy and physiology and will involve dissection of human analogs to study biological systems. This class will briefly discuss other body systems and their relationship to human physiology. Prerequisite: Completion of Science I and II or Consent of Instructor. (Fall semester)


This course covers a range of topics in atmospheric science. After defining the standard meteorological quantities and their depiction on weather maps, students will examine the interplay between temperature, pressure, and humidity to investigate cloud formation, micro- and mesoscale weather phenomena (thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.), and synoptic meteorology (frontal systems/midlatitude cyclones). Atmospheric circulation and the earth’s energy balance will be addressed, with the term culminating in an investigation of weather forecasting and interpretation of numerical models of short-term to climatological time scales. Prerequisite: Completion of Science I and II or Consent of Instructor. (Fall semester)

Organic Chemistry

Delve into the world of carbon-based chemistry. Students will discover the large variety of compounds that can be produced with only a few simple elements. This laboratory-based course will also look at many different classes of organic compounds, including alcohols, ketones, and esters. The course will explore applications of organic chemistry to biology and to industry; students will learn to make aspirin, oil of wintergreen, and nylon. Experimental Chemistry is helpful, but not required. Experimental and/or Organic Chemistry are recommended prior to enrollment in Advanced Biology. Prerequisite: Completion of Science I and II or Consent of Instructor. (Spring semester)

Physics B: Waves and Optics

After students observe actual waves in water in ripple tanks, the principles of waves will be investigated in sound. Human hearing, interference, the Doppler shift, the science of music, and the speed of sound will be investigated through demonstrations and experimentation. Mirrors and lenses will be introduced through geometric ray optics, and the operation of many optical instruments will be investigated. The wave nature of light will be investigated, with interference being used to measure the wavelength of light. Prerequisite: Completion of Science I and II or Consent of Instructor. (Fall semester)

Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism

This semester-long course begins with an investigation into electric fields and currents. We will investigate circuit components such as resistors and capacitors and assemble various circuits. We’ll learn about logic circuits and build a simple calculator. The interaction of magnets and charged particles is very important to modern technology, and we will spend quite a bit of time in lecture, demonstration, and lab gaining a firm understanding of this critical concept. Prerequisite: Completion of Science I and II or Consent of Instructor. (Spring semester)

Physics of Flight

For millennia, humans longed to take to the sky, yet it is only in the last century that aviation has come to the masses. What makes flying machines work? Students will investigate the physics behind air and spacecraft starting with the Montgolfier brothers’ first hot air balloon and Lilienthal’s foot-launched gliders, culminating with modern airliners, drones, and NASA’s Space Shuttle and its commercial successors. The forces of flight and aerodynamic principles that govern the generation of lift, propulsion, control, efficiency, and operation and limitation of aircraft systems will be explored in varying flight regimes. Prerequisite: Completion of Science I and II or Consent of Instructor. (Spring semester)

Scientific Writing

All disciplines need to communicate their observations, findings, and information to the masses. A novelist will use their observations and change it into a story. But what about a scientist? In this class we will read a variety of literature related to scientific study and the process of conveying that to the rest of the world. We will start with famous pieces related to major findings in science in the 19th century and conduct some of these classic experiments. We will then explore American Nature Writers and their blending of literary narrative with scientific observation. The course will include some modern non-fiction science writing and end the year looking at the future of science writing, including some science fiction and connecting it to real life scientific research. Students in this course will improve their ability to write their observations, critique scientific literature, and build an appreciation for scientific study. We will explore proper formal lab report writing as well as have opportunities to practice analytical and creative writing. Prerequisite: Completion of Science I and II or Consent of Instructor. (Spring semester)

Climate Change (Palma Seminar)

Climate change is perhaps the defining challenge of our age. While often framed as a purely scientific matter, it is a complex problem that must be approached in an interdisciplinary manner, and this seminar will take that approach. After an initial survey of the scientific foundations of climate change, the seminar will devote extensive attention to projected impacts around the globe, and potential courses of action at local, national, and international scales. Students will have significant opportunities for self-designed projects that delve into areas of particular interest. Experiential learning opportunities are a critical part of this course, so students should be prepared for occasional obligations outside of school hours. This course is open to all Upper School students and will count for 0.5 credit in Social Studies and 0.5 credit in Science. (Full year course; Honors)

Science Research

The purpose of this class is to give students experience in designing and implementing their own independent research project. Through an extensive search of scientific literature, students develop their own novel research question to investigate over the course of the year. Next, they develop protocols to address the topic of study and collect data and analyze it. Analysis of the collected data may include such tools as graphs and statistical analysis, and then students will write a discussion summarizing the findings. Students will present their work in an oral seminar format at the Junior Academy of Science and in poster format at the Northwest Science Expo for feedback from scientists. (Full year course; Honors)

Structural Design and Engineering

Why do buildings, sculptures, and objects stand up? What geometries lead to stability? How does material choice inform the structure and design process? How can we connect form with function? What factors do you need to consider in creating an effective and aesthetic design? This project- based course explores the basic principles of designing and building functional and beautiful structures, objects, and mechanisms. Main topics include statics (loads, force, and torque), material science, and the design process. Students will be presented with a series of challenges to design and build. Attention will be paid to structural stability, use of materials, cost-effectiveness, and beauty and elegance of design. The class will involve field trips around Portland and research into current and historical structural design. It will also involve drawing, sculpting, prototyping, calculating, and hands-on building. This course is open to sophomores through seniors who have completed Algebra I and will count for 0.5 credit in Arts and 0.5 credit in Science. (Full year course)

Advanced Electives

Advanced Biology

This course takes an in-depth approach to investigating cell and molecular biology, subjects that are fundamental to learning how all living organisms develop, survive and evolve. To accomplish this, students will investigate basic biological concepts dealing with the chemical basis of life, cellular biology, energy systems, growth and division of cells, and genetics. We will frequently read peer-reviewed journal articles and will use these as a vehicle for examining the original data from historically groundbreaking experiments. This course integrates literature research, writing skills, and critical thinking and laboratory skills that stress the development of experimental design, detailed observation, accurate recording, data interpretation, and analysis. Students are expected to work independently on topics that are intellectually and technically challenging. Prerequisites: Consent of Instructor. (Full year course; Honors)

Advanced Chemistry

This lab-intensive course provides an in-depth look at many chemical concepts introduced in previous courses, as well as explorations of new ideas. Topics will include molecular structures and bonding theories, properties of solutions, kinetics, thermodynamics, organic reactions, nuclear chemistry, and buffers and acid/base equilibria. Prerequisite: Experimental Chemistry and Consent of Instructor. (Full year course; Honors)

Advanced Physics

This course explores further topics in physics using methods of calculus and other specialized and advanced applications of mathematics (which will be presented in class). These topics include kinematics, rotation, equilibrium, gravitation, fluids, Gauss’ Law, electric potential, capacitance, induction, and Maxwell’s Equations. The year will wrap up with a consideration of the theory of special relativity. Consent of Instructor. Co-Requisite: Enrollment in Calculus I. (Full year course; Honors)

Science Teaching Assistants

Science Teaching Assistant

Teaching assistants are vital contributors to our science classes. TAs attend class each day and work directly with students. TAs help check daily homework, help students having difficulty with the material, set up and take down labs, and assist in the lab. As the year progresses, TAs may be involved in planning and teaching the class. Prerequisite: Consent of Instructor. Note: This course does not count towards the science requirement. (Full year or semester)