Sciences at SVGS


SEMESTER 2: While our first semester focused on the “what” of chemistry, the second semester considers the “how” and “why” of chemical processes.  We began the semester with an exploration of kinetics, the study of reaction rates and the particle-level mechanisms involved in a chemical reaction.  We then explored equilibrium at some depth with particular focus on acid-base equilibrium and solubility.  Recently we have studied thermodynamics, emphasizing the factors that drive a chemical process to occur in the first place.  In our final unit, we will apply concepts of equilibrium and thermodynamics to electrochemistry and will wrap up with an intensive review prior to the AP Chemistry exam on May 7.

SEMESTER 1: AP Chemistry is the equivalent of a first-year college chemistry course and is designed around six major themes:  atomic structure, bonding, reactions, kinetics, thermodynamics, and equilibrium.  Our semester began with a foundational unit on the structure of matter and stoichiometry followed by an investigation of solution chemistry.  In the lab students used gravimetric analysis and spectrophotometric techniques to explore precipitation and redox reactions.  We then completed an introductory unit on thermochemistry and most recently have begun taking a “deep dive” into atomic structure and bonding theories.



SEMESTER 2:  In January and February students learned about energy sources and air pollution and visited the Lycra Company to see how they changed from a coal burning plant to a natural gas burning plant.  They also hiked Betsy Bell in Staunton looking at lichens as an indicator for clean air.  Students are now learning about water and water pollution and are currently focusing on the ocean and coral reefs.  They did a lab activity where they formed “coral reefs” and then observed the effects of ocean acidification on their “reefs”.

SEMESTER 1:  AP Environmental Science students started the year learning about ecosystems, populations, and biodiversity.  They went to the Frontier Culture Museum to learn the difference between invasive, introduced, and native species and how they can affect biodiversity.  Students learned about public lands and our nearby national parks, state parks, national forests, rangelands, and wildernesses.  They also tested water to see the effects of acid rain on an area with no natural limestone and viewed how the land was changed by mining and a hurricane in St. Mary’s Wilderness.  Students will be learning about agriculture in the next unit.  They will also be visiting a dairy farm and a hydroponic farm in the coming weeks.  In addition, some students will be traveling to the Chincoteague Bay Field Station to learn about coastal environments versus the ridge and valley area where we live.


Environmental Chemistry began with measurement & units. Students figured out how big and how heavy $10,000,000 worth of gold is as well as what substances should be measured in “parts per million”. A brief introduction to matter and energy laid the foundation for further study. Students researched and shared how fire can be made to work for man.

A background in atomic theory and atomic structure prepared students to explore nuclear chemistry, where they researched and presented topics from nuclear weapons, nuclear power and nuclear medicine. Half-life problems and nuclear reaction equations provided useful mathematical models for radioactive decay, fission and fusion. Advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power as an energy source for the future were discussed.

The Periodic Table and Chemical bonds provide foundational knowledge for understanding matter and its properties. Families and patterns of the Periodic Table lead to different types of chemical bonds and the complex rules of chemical nomenclature. Formula mass calculations and mole/mass conversions provide the mathematical tools necessary for quantifying matter. Nomenclature skills are necessary to figure out “What’s in that?” when it comes to food and skin/hair products.

The next unit will focus on gases and the atmosphere. Gas Laws and the kinetic molecular theory provide a background for the study of atmospheric chemistry, which will culminate in a research project on air pollution. Lastly this semester will be the study of chemical reactions including both qualitative and quantitative aspects revealed in different types of reactions, reaction equations and stoichiometry.



SEMESTER 2: Students are studying de Broglie wave and particle-wave duality. A recent lab activity is conducted to visualize how a pulse is formed by the superposition effect of multiple waves (Fourier integral), as shown by this animated Maple graph.  

SEMESTER 1: Einstein’s special theory of relativity has been our focus so far. We measured the light speed and inspected how light travels according to the most advanced “femtosecond camera”. We studied to understand how Einstein’s simple constant light-speed postulate (and invariance of physics laws) leads to a warped space-time relations.

Students in the Molecular/Microbiology classes are working on their “Cells Do Life” project which encourages them to convey their understanding of the cell as a dynamic unit whose complex organization and activities constitute life. They began the semester by considering major biological principles and big ideas, and then they studied basic chemistry and biochemistry in order to understand the molecular properties and interactions that underlie life processes. Laboratory work has focused on reviewing basic skills such as use of the microscope, and mastering new techniques such as performing spectrophotometric assays and using standard separation methods for biomolecules including column chromatography and gel electrophoresis. Additional labs involved molecular modeling and detection of biomolecules in foods. More recent lab work has been related to cell structure and function, including an investigation of diffusion and osmosis and a study of enzyme activity. MolBio classes will end the semester with a unit on microbiology and immunology.


SEMSTER 2: Students began the semester exploring electricity and electrostatics. They calculated the charge on two spheres repelling each other a certain distance, learned about capacitors and electroscopes, used a Van de Graaff generator to divert a stream of water, make their hair stick up, and create a long-conducting chain of students.

Later, students applied these concepts to build and analyze direct-current circuits, including series-and-parallel resistor circuits, capacitors in series and parallel, and time-dependent RC circuits. Students are currently exploring magnetism and its relationship to electricity. Currently, they are developing their own laboratory experiments to determine the relationship between electrical current in a solenoid and the strength of the magnetic field it produces. Later in the semester, students will be exploring the topics of waves, sound, light, and electromagnetic waves.

SEMESTER 1: Students began the year exploring vectors, right triangle trigonometry, and unit conversions. They then applied these skills to physical concepts including velocity, acceleration, 2-dimensional projectile motion, forces, and circular motion.

After reviewing online lectures at home, students come to class prepared to problem-solve individually or in groups, complete hands-on activities and simulations, or participate in a class-wide discussion. They have engaged in laboratory activities using PASCO hardware to collect and analyze data, and write scientific reports highlighting connections between course topics and observed values. Thus far, students have collected and analyzed data using Bluetooth-enabled carts with onboard sensors, used video tracking software to determine the force of friction between a box and the floor, hit targets on their first try using projectile motion equations, and analyzed the gravitational interactions of Jupiter’s moons to determine the mass of Jupiter.

Students are about to begin exploring new topics, including kinetic and potential energy, work, and power. Later in the semester, they will learn about angular momentum, torque, and fluid dynamics.


SEMESTER 2: Students have recently presented their projects at the science fair at JMU and two students have moved on to the state level. The students are continuing to finalize their research and polishing their research papers so they can make formal presentations of their work in May.

SEMSTER 1: Students in Life Science Research class are beginning the process of developing ideas for their long-term projects. They have spent the first half of the semester acquiring knowledge and skills that will help them design and implement their projects. This work has included studying the scientific process and experimental design, principles of measurement and error analysis, and descriptive and inferential statistics. In Life Science Research class, students have performed several labs on such topics as methods for detecting biomolecules and use of model organisms in life science research. In Physical Sciences research,students have learned about pH and temperature testing, soil testing, and several different types of statistical tests.  They also did a scavenger hunt to learn about the different equipment available at SVGS for them to use in their research projects. In the next few weeks, students will begin researching their preferred topics and setting up test experiments.