Sciences at SVGS


AP Chemistry students have been focusing on the interactions of particles at the atomic level that determine the macroscopic properties of a chemical substance.  By understanding the types of forces at work between atoms, ions, and molecules, students have learned to predict trends in properties such as boiling point, vapor pressure, and solubility.  Our study of these particle-level forces led into a unit on gas laws and deviations from ideal gas behavior.  Most recently we explored the particle-level forces at work in solutions and solids.  We will begin the second semester with an investigation of chemical kinetics, which is the study of particle-level changes that control reaction rates.

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 spectrophotometry 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.


Photo of an overhanging ledge containing travertine and marl courtesy of Hannah Chatterton.

We have been studying public lands and their geology, mining, waste, and finished the semester with urban planning. In the geology unit, we studied soils at Shenandoah National Park and looked at local geological formations. For the mining and waste unit, students learned about different types of mining that have occurred in Virginia including the future possibility of mining for Uranium. Students will review the waste unit by visiting the Augusta County Landfill in January.

Students have started their environmental field work this year with both working and learning field trips to St. Mary’s Wilderness, a dairy farm, and the Frontier Culture Museum. They are currently working on their first project to learn more about recycling, endangered species, the Appalachian Trail, or to compete in a video contest where they can win $1000.00 to help with college expenses. The contest is through Population Education, a program within Population Connection, and students are challenged to make a video about a specific problem within a category and how to solve the problem as the population increases. The three categories are preserving biodiversity, sustaining resource use, and protecting human rights.


Students presented their atmospheric gases projects before we moved on to study chemical reactions and stoichiometry. Laboratory experiments helped students recognize different reaction types and develop product prediction skills. The quantitative aspects of chemical reactions were further developed through stoichiometry practice and experiments geared toward answering the “how much” question in chemistry. The semester concluded with an independent research project with topics including bio-batteries, crop rotation, exercise physiology, slug slime and ocean acidification.

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.

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.



Students explore the world that is beyond/beneath our direct observation but “omnipresent” in our everyday life. The course introduces concepts and analysis methods in relativistic kinematics, 1D quantum mechanics, statistical physics, thermodynamics, nuclear and atomic physics, and solid state physics. Students review some astonishing scientific discoveries  in the last 120 years and the revolutionized ideas by the most brilliant thinkers of our modern age. It demonstrates how contemporary technologies are developed based on those abstract concepts. Students are expected to gain the most challenging knowledge and to enhance scientific reasoning abilities through discussions, guided research, computer simulations and mathematical analysis.

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.

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 have 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. They have completed laboratory activities surrounding concepts such as friction, universal gravitation, and circular motion, conducted analysis of motion and friction using video tracking software, and foiled multiple “alien attacks” by using kinematics equations to launch plastic projectiles at targets.
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.

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 examined chemistry and physics scientific articles and designed various experiments. They have also been introduced to methods of displaying their investigative work, including research presentations and posters. Finally, students will be working on techniques for accessing, reading and documenting professional, technical literature as they begin to do background research on their project topics. After developing viable project ideas, students will complete the semester by preparing and presenting a formal research project proposal.