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View From Vis: Upper School Science

Science at Visitation is inquiry-based, allowing students to creatively explore the world around them and effectively solve problems. Whether they are working in Visitation’s spacious, well-equipped labs and STEM center or exploring our 60-acre campus, students gain a number of valuable life skills in their science courses. They develop a deeper curiosity about natural and human-made phenomena; gain the skills to safely handle equipment and technology; master the methods of scientific inquiry; develop an understanding of proper experimental design; and much more--all alongside our master science faculty. 

Here is a sampling of the many fascinating projects Upper School science students engaged in during the 2020-21 school year.

Solving the case of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in neighboring farms

In Honors Biology, students explored the problems antibiotic resistance can create in our society. They learned how bacteria evolve and develop antibiotic resistance very quickly and how bacteria can transfer antibiotic-resistant genes to other bacteria in their environment. To explore this problem, students were presented with an issue: A local farm had found antibiotic-resistant bacteria in its soil and neighbors were fearful that their farms had also been infected. The class was tasked with determining if soil samples from neighboring farms had antibiotic-resistant bacteria present. They used biotechnology to solve the case! Equipped with goggles, gloves, and a steady hand, students used techniques of micropipetting, PCR, and gel electrophoresis to analyze DNA from the soil samples, and found which neighboring farms were infected. 

How much energy would an asteroid collision with Earth produce? 

In Upper School Astronomy, students formulated nonlinear equations after dropping marbles into sand and graphing the diameter of the impact crater as a function of potential energy. Applying interpolation to actual crater data from Mexico, the students were able to estimate the energy of an asteroid collision with Earth!

Building LEGO rovers inspired by Mars Perseverance

Students Upper School Astronomy engaged in a fun project inspired by the landing of Mars Perseverance. Students were tasked with designing and building their own rover using LEGOs. Each rover was required to satisfy a specific mission (e.g., finding evidence of life on Mars, determining mineral composition of Martial soil, finding water, or studying atmospheric conditions). Then, each group explained their mission to the class and the functionality of their rover components.

Using chemical reactions to explore the Martian landscape

Upper School Chemistry students also did a project connected to the landing of Mars Perseverance. One theory currently under consideration for Mars is the use of chemistry and catalysis to convert the planet's carbon dioxide atmosphere into oxygen and thus make it possible to visit the planet. Chemistry students designed filters that would capture carbon dioxide molecules (black pepper flakes) and then looked at different chemical reactions that could change the carbon dioxide to oxygen—exploring the potential for astronauts to visit Mars in the future. The students were able to take what they learned and apply it to real life as they followed along with the landing of Mars Perseverance.

Finding joy and beauty in nature through Phenology and plant growth

Tenth-grade Biology began and ended the year by paying close attention to the patterns in nature. In the fall the students studied phenology by taking a daily photo of a spot in their own yard or neighborhood for one month and observing the changes that took place over time. They used online data to record daily sunrise, sunset, hours of daylight, and temperature data, and then compared that data to the changes that took place. This project included creating time-lapse videos and graphs. Students also learned the common and scientific names of some of the plants in their own backyards. 

In the spring, students conducted a long-term experiment to look at factors that affect plant growth. Pairs of students designed their own controlled experiment and grew two pots of herbs, comparing a variable such as use of fertilizer, number of seeds per pot, or natural vs. artificial light. They graphed and summarized their findings at the end of this eight-week project. Both projects helped students find joy in the little changes that take place in nature from one day to the next. 

These projects are just a sampling of the many ways in which Visitation Science courses help students expand their thinking and gain a deeper appreciation for the world around them. Our master Science faculty foster a sense of discovery, wonder and potential!