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September 2011

Welcome to the 2011-2012 school year at Boys' Latin. Check out the updates below to find out what students and staff have been up to in the science department!

The Science of Our Senses

On Wednesday, September 28, twenty students and all four science teachers visited the Monell Chemical Senses Center as part of the Boys' Latin Science Excursions program. The student and science department are incredibly grateful for Dr. Danielle Reed and her team for putting together an afternoon of hands-on and minds-on learning.

Below is a description of the September excursion, written by James R., a freshman in Ms. Galib's Bio/Chem class:

Visiting the Monell Chemical Sense Center was a very entertaining, enriching, and fun event. The scientists at the  Monell Chemical Senses Center taught us about many things, such as the five basic tastes: bitter, sweet, salty, sour, and umami (which has been discovered more recently. At the center, we also learned that two of the five senses, taste and smell, are closely related.

Everybody involved in this event had to take part in a couple of experiments. We had to dye our tongues blue because everyone has bumps on their tongues that determine how strong our senses of taste is. During the first experiment, we had to look through a mirror to determine how big the bumps are. During the test we discovered that most of the people there did not have any big taste buds really. 

The next experiment that we had to do involved tasting vials of mystery liquids. There were 7 vials, and we all had to taste one after another. The first one was water, the second sugar water, the third mildly sour, the fourth bitter, the fifth tasteless, and the sixth one was tasteless as well. But something peculiar about the sixth one, is that some people could taste it while others couldn't. We learned that when you are born, you get chromosomes from both your mother and father. If some of them don't work, you are impervious to some things. For this taste, both of your parents must have the genes in order for you to be able to taste it. What was the most interesting about this discovery is that the same chemical that was inside of the liquid is found in different green vegetables.

After we were finished with all the experiments, we took a tour and we saw some labs. After we finished that, we took a bus home, and we all had presents to remember this once in a lifetime experience.

Each month, students visit a lab, museum, or other location in the city to learn about science. The program requires that students submit an application and complete a reading about the topic for the month. A different set of students is chosen each month. Students interested in attending future trips should contact their science teachers.

CSI Science: Making Observations and Inferences

During the second week of school, students in Ms. Galib's, Mr. Harrison's, and Mr. Smith's Bio/Chem I classes spent some time on a fictional crime scene to learn about making observations and inferences.

Students were encouraged to record as many observations about the scene as possible. The challenge was for students to only record what they saw and could measure. During the observation collection stage, it was important for students not to jump to conclusions but to remain objective and focused on recording details about the scene. 

Back in the classroom, students began to discuss their observations and chart out possible inferences that could be made based on the evidence. Students needed to use multiple observations to make sense of what happened. They also had to acknowledge that while each student made the same initial observations, students often arrived at different conclusions based on the available data.

In the end, students should have learned that the foundation of science is built upon observations. Scientists should do their best to work with what they see, smell, taste, hear, and feel before theorizing or beginning to make predictions. Otherwise, scientists might miss some important observations if they are too focused on their conclusions, theories, and predictions.

Robotics Team Kicks Off Season

Members of the Boys’ Latin robotics team (Deus Ex Machina) attended a kick-off event for the FIRST Tech Challenge on Saturday, September 10, at Livingston High School in New Jersey. This event allowed our team to see the new competition requirements and to see other robots created by teams who have been competing for years.

FIRST Tech Challenge is designed for students who want to compete head to head. Teams of up to 10 students are responsible for 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. Teams, including coaches, mentors and volunteers, are required to develop strategy and build robots based on sound engineering principles. Awards are given for the competition as for well as for community outreach, design, and other real-world accomplishments.

This video shows this year's challenge. Students will spend the coming fall and winter designing and redesigning a machine that can compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge. The game manual was also released on September 10 and includes all of the competition rules.

Science Speaker Series with Dr. Bertley Addresses Global Issues in Science

On Friday, September 30, a group of students participated in a special guest lecture by Dr. Bertley, Vice President of Science and Innovation at the Franklin Institute. 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. Bertley spoke about science's ability to address global challenges and spoke specifically about his experiences working to develop a vaccination for HIV. Students learned about ongoing research and the possibilities for eradicating viruses. They also learned about the challenges that accompany these efforts.

At the end of Dr. Bertley's talk, students asked questions about his experiences as a researcher and scientist. Dr. Bertley earned a B.Sc. in Physiology and Ph.D. in Immunology, both from McGill University, where he also studied Mathematics and the History and Philosophy of Science. Dr. Bertley has won numerous Awards, including the coveted Harvard Medical School Dean’s Service Award, and the Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Prior to joining the Franklin Institute’s leadership team, Dr. Bertley was research scientist at Harvard Medical School, researching HIV/AIDS vaccines. He is currently a Research Affiliate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) a member of the Academic Advisory Board for the Governor of Massachusetts.

Learning and Burning

Students practice recording observations and making inferences during a candle demonstration and lab.