Science is everywhere. Our students begin with this simple notion and they develop a deep understanding of the principles and rules that govern the universe. A physics class discusses the energy of a falling leaf, which converts from potential to kinetic, but also creates friction and heat as it presses on air molecules and the air presses back. While hiking through the back campus, an environmental science class observes a leaf decaying on the forest floor and discusses how nutrients and matter are recycled in the biosphere. As the students return from their hike, the biology teacher strolls by, points to a caterpillar munching on a leaf and reminds the students that macromolecules from food are recycled into all body structures. The students remember their lesson from chemistry – that we balance a chemistry equation because matter is never created or destroyed, merely recycled into another form. Thus the fundamental systems that guide our universe build upon each other and are reinforced at every turn.

Our science department fosters curiosity about the world and creates students able to succeed in future scientific study. Through discussions, active discovery, experiments, and group projects, we encourage our students to think, to take intellectual risks and try, even if the outcome leads them to revise their understanding. Our students learn to work together, to respect each other’s ideas and talents, and to celebrate the camaraderie and success that comes with like minds involved in critical thinking and problem solving.

Most students begin with the study of biology in the freshman year and advance to chemistry or physics as their mathematical proficiency increases. After the first two years of study, their interest and skills guide them as they explore the wide range of science courses offered.

Course Descriptions


In Biology, students explore the fundamental structures of life, beginning with the principles that control atoms and molecules and building upon those principles as they journey through cells, genetics, the evolution of living organisms, and culminating with the complexity of ecosystems. In the lab, students improve their observation skills and learn to use the scientific method to analyze complex natural systems and a variety of organisms. Students improve study habits and develop the critical thinking skills necessary to grasp intricate biological concepts.

Honors Biology
Honors Biology students begin with challenging labs exploring the molecular basis of cells, the foundation of life. Without photosynthesis to build molecules, cellular respiration to release energy, and protein synthesis to manifest genetic make-up, no life would exist. Students learn the connection between cell functions and genetic heritage while conducting research projects about genetic engineering or inherited diseases. Building on the patterns in genetics, students begin to see the connections between organisms which developed through the process of evolution. Evolutionary relationships are reinforced as students observe and dissect a variety of organisms. A focused study of the human body and its similarities and differences to other organisms follows. The end of the year concludes with a unit tying all patterns of life together in the study of ecosystems. This course prepares students for AP Biology.

AP Biology
In Advanced Placement (AP) Biology, students are guided through an exploration of the recurring themes of biological processes in the equivalent of a college introductory biology course. By making connections between biological principles, complex topics are simplified. For instance, the large surface area of respiratory surfaces serves the same function as the highly convoluted inner mitochondrial membrane – more space to do cellular work. Students are also required to put their knowledge into practice through review and discussion of current scientific news. Learning is reinforced with demonstrations, animations, simulations, and labs.

Students studying Chemistry examine the makeup of all atomic and molecular forms of matter and the laws that guide matter’s interactions. Building on those fundamental principles, they develop mathematical tools that allow them to demystify some of nature’s seemingly magical transformations, like the fact that two caustic and volatile substances such as chlorine and sodium combine to form a fundamental requirement for human life, salt. While strengthening their mathematical skills, students gain confidence in their ability to grasp complex chemical concepts. In the lab, students practice the principles of scientific research as they take on the role of a chemist at a consulting laboratory where their team experiments, collects data, and reports their findings.

Honors Chemistry
In Honors Chemistry, students examine the makeup of all atomic and molecular forms of matter and the laws that guide matter's interactions. They develop an understanding of atomic structure and the elemental properties that arise from that structure, recognizing the patterns and distinctions between materials. Understanding fundamental principles of the universe like the electric force between charges and conservation of matter, honors students learn to predict the outcome of complex chemical reactions using stoichiometry. In the lab, students design their own experiments to test their predictions, then carry out these experiments and refine their understanding of results through data analysis. This course prepares students for AP Chemistry.

AP Chemistry
Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry covers many topics from previous studies in greater detail and new subjects are explored. Particular attention is placed on predicting if a reaction will happen and why some reactions, like rusting, are terribly slow, while other reactions, like the explosion of dynamite, are incredibly fast. Problem solving skills will develop significantly as students answer complex and multi-layered problems. Laboratory experiments require students to master lab techniques and to use various pieces of lab equipment properly. Students will be challenged to empirically analyze the results and explain sources of error in experiments. The work and level of thinking required in AP Chemistry are equivalent to that required in a college-level class.

In Physics, students explore the fundamental laws of the universe. They refine their algebraic abilities as they learn problem solving techniques that apply to many scenarios and translate to many others, including a water balloon launched out of a slingshot, a rollercoaster rounding a loop, a sound wave striking the ear drum, a beam of light bouncing through fiber optic cable, a light bulb in an electric circuit, and an electromagnetic motor. Towards the end of the year, students research the physics involved in any topic they choose and present their findings to the class. Students develop self-confidence in their ability to effectively retain challenging material, and they strengthen critical thinking skills through engaging classroom discussion and challenging self-directed laboratories.

AP Physics
AP Physics stretches students to become self-directed learners by reinforcing skills to think critically, analyze situations, and make informed connections. Students refine their ability to understand the effect a variable has on any system, conceptually and mathematically. They master fundamental principles and problem solving techniques that, when applied appropriately, help them solve any physical problem. Whether designing and building a soda can barge, determining the coefficient of friction for a material, or predicting the motion of a charged particle in a magnetic field, students expand their abilities in creative problem solving and experimental design as they explore all areas of introductory college physics.

Environmental Science
In Environmental Science students gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the natural world that supports human life and culture by observing ecosystems and the complex interactions between organisms. Labs determining water quality and soil structure challenge students to understand the earth systems that support living communities and discover how humans have impacted nature. Students address issues such as resource depletion and pollution by conducting labs to determine air quality and energy demand. In Environmental Science, students learn solutions for the future and develop confidence in their ability to grasp interdisciplinary concepts.

AP Environmental Science
The interdisciplinary nature of this critical, contemporary study appeals to students with a variety of interests including science, history, politics, and economics. In this course students learn the scientific principles, concepts, and methodologies required to understand the interrelationships of the natural world. Students identify and analyze environmental problems both natural and human-made, evaluate the relative risks associated with these problems, and examine solutions for resolving and/or preventing them. This rigorous college level course involves many labs and field exercises including an annual weekend trip to the Chesapeake Bay. This class challenges students to answer questions about how humans can live well today without jeopardizing the needs of future generations.

Contact Science Department

Chad Hanning
Margaret T. Bourne Chair of Science
Phone: 434-385-3883

Kiersten Bell
Phone: 434-385-3674

Peter Jackson
Phone: 434-385-3640

Larissa Knebel
Phone: 434-385-3839

Alan Metcalf
Phone: 434-385-3672

Marcia Yochum
Phone: 434-385-3671

Honor. Rigor. Community. Relationships. Individual Attention.

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400 VES Road, Lynchburg, VA 24503 | 434-385-3600