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October 2011

Check out the updates below to find out what students and staff have been up to in the science department!

Nano Day at the University of Pennsylvania

On Wednesday, October 26, twenty students and all four science teachers participated in the annual Nano Day at the University of Pennsylvania. Boys' Latin was one of six schools in the Greater Philadelphia region to participate in the program.

As part of Nano Day, students visited the interdisciplinary Nano-Bio Interface Center and learned about various applications of nanotechnology and talked to graduate students about their research. For instance, students learned about the different ways that particles move and interact on the nanoscale.

Students also visited the College of Engineering's General Robotics, Automation, Sensing, & Perception (GRASP) lab. A graduate student who works in the lab described some of the work being conducted by students at Penn.

At the end of the day, one student (Josh) got to suit up and step into a cleanroom, a lab that is specially outfitted to house the University's delicate nanofabrication projects. Before entering the cleanroom, Josh had to cover his shoes, clothes, hands, and face with protective coverings to ensure that he did not bring foreign materials into the lab.

Mr. Harrison found and shared with students and staff a Nova video that shows some of the applications of nanotechnology and that even shows the use of cleanrooms (just like the one Josh visited) to develop new technologies. You can check out the videos on PBS here.

Boyle's Law: Measuring the Relationship Between Volume and Pressure

During the month of October, students in Ms. Galib's, Mr. Harrison's, and Mr. Smith's Bio/Chem I classes spent some time investigating some of the factors that affect gases in.

Instead of just taking notes on the different characteristics of gases, students began their study by exploring how a change in pressure might affect the volume of a gas. Students applied different amounts of pressure to a gas trapped in a syringe and measured the changing pressure. Students recorded data and were able to compare data with one other. While it is important to note that changes in volume and pressure do not happen in isolation (and can be affected by changes in the amount of gas or the temperature of the gas), students were still able to make some inferences about the effect that a change in pressure can have on gases. 

From this starting point, students were able to predict other changes and integrate their observations with what they already knew about the molecular theory of matter and the particles that make up a gas.

The way in which students learned about gases represents the way that our teachers attempt to create learning experiences for students so that they can build upon observations of the natural world and compare their experiences with accepted theories about how the world works.
Check out a summary from Marcel, a student in Ms. Galib's class, to learn more about students' experiences in science this month:

In Ms. Galib's class students have been learning about writing scientific questions based on observations. Writing about observations can lead to testable and measurable questions, cause and effect, independent and dependent variables, and an inference. Another subject that students have been learning in Ms.Galib's class is metric units. We’ve learned that if a scientist is measuring something he or she must understand that they need too measure in units used by others.

We have moved on to volume and density and how to find the density and volume of coins. Student have also learned the states of matters as they change with temperature. Ms.Galib has also taught us about scientific gas laws: Boyle's law, Charles' law, and Gay Lussac's law. Boyle's law describes the proportional relationship between the absolute pressure and volume of a gas, while Charles' law describes the law of volumes and how gases tend to expand when heated, and Gay Lussac's states that the pressure of a sample of gas at constant volume is directly to consistent its temperature in Kelvin. Students have also learned about the formulas of each of the gases that allow us to predict the behavior of gases.

Robotics Team Participates in Training and Brainstorming Weekend

Members of the Boys’ Latin Robotics Team (Deus Ex Machina) were special guests of Moorestown Friends School (MFS) in New Jersey on Saturday, October 15. Our team met the robotics students at Moorestown Friends last spring during a robotics exhibition at the Franklin Institute. Their sponsor, Timothy Clarke, has been instrumental in supporting our team's development this year. Mr. Clarke and his team invited us to visit their school and learn from their successes.
At MFS, our team built a basic robot using parts from our kit. While part of the team worked on the robot, other members learned about programming using a graphic programming platform called LabVIEW.

Students also were able to drive robots on a course that was set up like the course we will use in competitions later in the year. At the end of the day, MFS sent us home with a ramp, bowling ball, crates, and other materials that we can use to practice for upcoming competitions. We send our gratitude to Mr. Clarke and his students for their support and guidance.

FIRST Tech Challenge is a robotics competition designed for students in teams of 10 students who are interested in designing, building, and programming their robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams. The robot is programmed using a variety of languages that students can learn. This video shows this year's competition. Students are spending the fall and winter designing and redesigning a machine that can compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge.

The photos below show students back at Boys' Latin making changes to the basic robot design and devising ways to meet the goals of the FIRST Tech Challenge.

Science Speaker Series with Dr. Womack Addresses Viruses and the Development of Vaccines

On Thursday, October 13, a group of students participated in a special guest lecture by Dr. Womack, founding president and chair of TBED21, a technology-based economic development organization. As part of the Boys' Latin Science Speakers Series, a special guest speaker shares an engaging talk on a science issue or topic. The speaker is an innovator in his or her field and exudes a passion for science, learning, and solving problems. The Science Speaker Series is inspired by traditional guest lectures that occur at universities throughout the world and the high-energy TED talks popularized in recent years. Prior to the talk, students read about vaccinations and how they work.

Dr. Womack spoke about his work developing vaccines for the influenza virus. Prior to his work with TBED21, Dr. Womack was the founding president of 3GEN Vaccines and still serves as the company's senior consultant. He shared background information on the ways in which viruses evolve and the ways that pharmaceutical companies attempt to address the virus's changing forms and provide preventative medicines for individuals.

At the end of Dr. Womack's talk, students asked questions about his experiences as a researcher and scientist. He has completed multiple fellowships with the National Institutes of Health during his career. Dr. Womack earned a his B.S. in biology and his Ph.D. in biomedical sciences from Morehouse College.

Dr. Womack is also instrumental in supporting the Franklin Institute's STEM Scholar's program, a four-year science initiative that challenges and engages high school students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Four students from Boys' Latin were selected last year to participate in the inaugural class of the STEM Scholar's program.

Sizing Things Up

Students sort through sets of images to make sense of just how big--and how small--different objects and living things in the universe are. This lesson was part of an exploration of measurement, scale, and metric units.