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Next year, juniors and seniors can expect two new courses being added to the science electives: Advanced Topics in Biology: Genetics and Advanced Topics in Chemistry: Organic Chemistry, taught by Upper School Science teachers Ned Heckman and Mallory Schmidt.
The Genetics course takes place in the spring semester. It will focus on the implication of genetics; students will be able to conduct experiments and practice lab techniques such as DNA isolation, fingerprinting, and genome sequencing.
“Students can expect a rollicking good time, of course,” Heckman said.
While sophomores do learn about genetics in biology, juniors and seniors can expect an entirely new approach to their quarter 3 studies.
Students will start the semester by learning about the history of genetics and reading up on papers such as the Watson and Crick paper that established the model of DNA. Topics such as transcription and translation will also be revisited but students will get to learn more about the two processes as it applies to development.
“I’m really interested in taking the abstract concepts and applying them to a specific scenario,” Heckman said.
The course will also cover subjects such as epigenetics and bioethics. Heckman ensures there will be lots of lab, application of past material, and learning about why everything matters at a deeper level. A specific lab experiment that students will get to conduct involves drosophila melanogaster fruit flies and their connection to Mendelian genetics.
“[Students will learn] concepts like linkage, for example, in an applied setting using actual flies and phenotyping them,” Heckman said.
Students will have the opportunity to learn about DNA isolation and sequencing using familiar processes such as PCR and gel electrophoresis.
“We share the same basic language of A’s and T’s and C’s and G’s but also we’re distinguished based on those same A’s and T’s and C’s and G’s. That’s beautiful and that has some spiritual power to me almost and so that’s why I think it’s important to understand genetics,” Heckman said.
Because people now have access to such a wide range of techniques and technologies, it becomes important for students to learn about bioethics and the consequences.
“I’m just really excited to share what I know, but more importantly what students are thinking about genetics as we learn it,” Heckman said.
The Organic Chemistry course takes place in the fall semester. It will focus on synthesizing compounds and testing their properties; students will get to make aspirin, wintergreen oil, and other essential oils while also learning how scientists analyze compounds.
Some concepts that will be covered more in depth are melting point and thin layer chromatography. A significant portion of organic chemistry will also be dedicated to observing functional group changes when a chemical reaction occurs. Students will be exposed to using new equipment as well such as the FTIR spectrometer.
“There’s a lot of benefits to [this organic chemistry course] … having exposure before [students] get to [college] because organic chemistry can be a very intimidating course if you don’t know what it’s about and a lot of students hear negative things about it. We want them to be exposed and have a really good experience before they leave here,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt hopes that this new elective will motivate and inspire students to realize chemistry isn’t about memorizing reactions but instead, a process that provides a specialized style of learning.
Both electives will have hands on activities in the lab every week. Extra summer work and departmental approval is required for those in regular track.