Departmental Offerings

The following course descriptions detail the likely offerings during any school year, though specifics will vary from term to term and course lineups are always changing. Click on the course titles below for full descriptions.

  • Advanced Placement Biology

    AP Biology provides an in-depth study of the organism from a molecular and physical perspective while also considering both current and historical relationships among organisms. From such a study students may better understand humankind’s place in nature and our relationship to the living world. This is a rigorous and fast-paced college-level introductory course, which meets four single and one double period a week. Major topics in the fall term are cell biology and genetics; in the winter term, evolution and physiology; and in the spring term, plant and animal physiology. Activities include lectures, discussions, films, field trips, and research (laboratory and library). The course generally follows the College Board AP Biology outline; however, there is a significantly greater emphasis on laboratory work than required by the AP Biology syllabus. Prerequisites: Physics, Chemistry, and Departmental approval.
  • Advanced Placement Chemistry

    This course is a full-year, college-level, comprehensive study of the structure and properties of matter in preparation for the AP Chemistry exam in May. Theoretical concepts are developed by class discussions and observed during extensive, independent work in the laboratory. Topics covered include: formula and reaction stoichiometry, gases, liquids, solids, solutions, atomic theory and atomic structure, nuclear chemistry, chemical bonding and hybridization, kinetics and equilibrium, acids, bases and acid-base reactions, solubility and precipitation, complex ions, thermochemistry, thermodynamics, oxidation-reduction reactions, electrochemistry, transition metals and organic chemistry. Classroom and laboratory practices stress quantitative chemical problem solving, precise measurements, careful observations, logical interpretation of results, and summation of laboratory results in logical, organized lab notebooks. Student achievement is assessed through quizzes, tests, lab notebooks, laboratory technique and class participation. Prerequisites: Physics, Chemistry, and Departmental approval.
  • Advanced Placement Environmental Science

    The goal of this course is to provide students with the scientific principles, concepts, and methodologies required to understand the interrelationships of the natural world, to identify and analyze environmental problems both natural and human-made, to evaluate the relative risks associated with these problems, and to examine alternative solutions for resolving and/or preventing them. Prerequisites: Physics and Chemistry.
  • Advanced Placement Physics C: Mechanics (calculus-based)

    This full-year course is equivalent to a one-semester, calculus-based, college-level physics course especially appropriate for students planning to specialize or major in the physical sciences or engineering. The course prepares students to take the AP Physics C Exam and explores topics such as kinematics; Newton’s laws of motion; work, energy and power; systems of particles and linear momentum; circular motion and rotation; oscillations and gravitation, angular momentum and orbital dynamics. Introductory differential and integral calculus is used throughout the course. The class teaches students to:

    • observe and measure natural phenomena
    • design and execute experiments
    • organize, display, and critically analyze data
    • determine uncertainties in measurements and properly propagate these errors to calculated quantities
    • draw inferences from observational data and its associated errors
    • communicate results and suggest ways to improve experiments and propose questions for further study

    Prerequisites: Physics and Chemistry, Calculus concurrently
  • Advanced Placement Psychology

    Psychology is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes. AP Psychology introduces students to the study of human behavior from a variety of perspectives: biological, cognitive, humanistic, psychodynamic, behavioral and socio-cultural. Topics, including sensation and perception, learning and intelligence, motivation and emotion, personality, growth and development, and abnormal psychology, are covered through reading, experiments, and study of real-world experiences. This course prepares students for the AP Psychology Exam in the spring. Prerequisites: Physics and Chemistry
  • Astronomy

    This is a one trimester introductory course in astronomy. The course takes a temporal approach that begins with the origin and evolution of the Universe (cosmology), and gradually gets closer in space and time to Earth now. The formation, structure, and evolution of galaxies and stars are covered, along with a brief survey of the origin and constituents of our solar system. The course continues with an overview of the sky and its changes due to the motion of the Earth and other celestial objects: the daily movement of the stars according to an observer on Earth due to the Earth’s rotation, the phases of the moon, the seasons, and the movement of the planets against the background of the “fixed stars.” The observational component of the course includes evening and early morning sessions and a required weekend camping trip.
  • Biology: Cellular and Molecular

    Cellular and molecular biology provides an introduction to topics such as biological molecules, cell structure, DNA, protein synthesis, photosynthesis, and cellular respiration. Collectively, these concepts provide students with a basic understanding of how biological systems work. It is upon this understanding that subsequent biology electives in the second and third trimesters are built. This course includes weekly laboratory meetings in which students complete work with computer-based data collection, microscopy, and internet-based research. Prerequisites: Physics and Chemistry.
  • Biology: Evolution

    The main idea of evolution is that all life on Earth shares a common ancestor. Beginning with Charles Darwin, students explore how scientists explain the diversity of life on our planet. The search leads them through the many different ways that scientists have studied evolution, from fossil records to recent molecular and genetic information, and in the process they learn about the importance of mutation, migration, genetic drift, and natural selection. As the course focuses on the human evolution story, students discover that scientists, using diverse approaches, all now agree that there probably is a common modern human ancestor, and that ancestor lived in Central Africa. At this point, the course becomes a very personal odyssey for each student, as the class will participate in an international real-time research study, the National Geographic Society Genographic Project. Each student sends in for analysis a "cheek swab" of DNA; by studying the results of each student's family migratory history, the class learns about the unique origins of humans on earth. Prerequisites: Physics, Chemistry
  • Biology: Life on Earth

    In this course students explore the variety and distribution of life on Earth with the intention of relating that knowledge to understanding the plant and animal species that surround Thacher’s campus (and in some cases reside within it). The course uses the free textbook Life on Earth, written by E.O. Wilson, and includes weekly field excursions or laboratory exercises. Assessments include four tests, weekly quizzes, and laboratory/field work reports. The course culminates in a final project.
  • Biology: Marine

    This course involves the study of marine life using a taxonomic approach, beginning with microscopic, unicellular organisms such as microalgae and cyanobacteria, and ending with a survey of the oceans' largest organisms, the whales.  As each group is considered, ecological connections are highlighted as the habitats and behaviors of example organisms are discussed. Students use laboratory periods to complete a variety of activities, including dissection, web-based research, and group and individual project work.
  • Biology: Veterinary Medicine

    This is a course that introduces the student to basic anatomy and organ system function as they relate to major diseases, and health problems of companion animals. This class affords students a base knowledge of veterinary science by moving through topics ranging from the cell to surgery, and to provide a view of the practice of veterinary medicine through the eyes of an experienced practitioner. Study also includes hands-on laboratories where students spend time exploring companion animal vital signs, physical examination techniques, basic first aid, nursing, and wound care. Students also explore vignettes of a day in the life of a veterinarian that relay James Herriot-type stories with relevance to clinical practice and the daily work of a veterinarian. Prerequisites: Physics, Chemistry
  • Chemistry/Honors Chemistry

    Chemistry and Honors Chemistry are introductory courses in chemistry, which cover such topics as atomic structure, nuclear chemistry, formula and reaction stoichiometry, gas laws, equilibrium, kinetics and thermodynamics. Chemical principles are discussed in the context of environmental issues and industrial applications. Laboratories are conducted weekly to support and enhance course content. Both Chemistry and Honors Chemistry have a quantitative component. However, Honors Chemistry, which is open to students selected by the department based upon their achievement in physics and mathematics, is faster-paced and mathematically more rigorous. Students who successfully complete the honors version of this course are prepared to take the College Board’s SAT II in Chemistry.
  • Geology

    Geology is a college-level, survey course that covers a range of topics in physical geology including:  minerals, rocks, and the rock cycle; earthquakes and Earth’s interior; volcanoes; mountain building and structural geology; principles of geologic dating; and plate tectonics. Field and classroom practices stress careful observation and measurement of the natural environment coupled with quantitative problem solving and computer work. Information and data from the World Wide Web is utilized for classroom activities.
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology

    This is a basic human anatomy and physiology course that focuses on the structure and functions of select systems of the human body.  A mammalian dissection is one of the laboratory activities associated with both sections of this course. After an introduction to the basics of anatomy, the trimester-long class will explore the details of one of two sets of human systems. Option A focuses on skeletal, muscular, respiratory, and circulatory systems; Option B focuses on digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems.
  • Introductory Physics

    As the first class in Thacher's science curriculum, this course introduces students to scientific exploration of the physical phenomena that shape their world and their daily experiences while at the same time developing their skills in logic, formal analytical thought, data analysis, and experimental design. The syllabus begins with a conceptual approach to Newton’s Laws and progresses to momentum and energy, gradually introducing more quantitative problem solving. After momentum and energy, topics covered include torque and circular motion, gravitation, Einstein’s Special Relativity, the properties of solids, liquids, and gases, atomic structure, vibrations and waves, and electricity and magnetism. The course includes informal laboratory work and several hands-on projects.
  • Science and Society Seminar

    The role of science in contemporary society is complex and at times confusing. Often, the scientific community is expected to study and explain issues that profoundly affect us both now and in our future. Certainly, it is more and more essential in these modern times for educated citizens to strive to understand the science underlying contentious public issues. This is the premise for this half-credit course, organized and taught by the entire science department. Each week, a different science teacher will introduce students to an issue, providing reading and discussion to support the topic. Possible topics include: global warming, stem cell research, intelligent design, water rights, and science in the legal system.


  • Christopher Vyhnal

    Chair of the Science Department; Chemistry and Geology Teacher
    Colgate University - BA
    University of Tennessee - MS
    Dartmouth College - PhD
  • Edgar Arceo

    Fisher Fellow, Spanish and Psychology Teacher
    Kenyon College - BA
  • Owen Coyle

    Science, Math, and Computer Science Teacher
  • Kristen Finch

    Veterinary Medicine Teacher
    University of California, Davis - BS
    Atlantic Veterinary College - DVM
  • Heather Grant

    Biology and Chemistry Teacher
    Mount Holyoke College - BA
    Montana State University - MS
  • Thomas Hattori

    Mathematics and Science Teacher
    University of California, Berkeley - BA
  • Alice Meyer

    Director of Studies and Psychology Teacher
    Smith College - BA
    Smith College - MEd
  • Brian Pidduck

    Director of the Outdoor Program and Science Teacher
    Whitman College - BA
  • Peter Sawyer

    Biology and Physics Teacher
    University of California, Berkeley - BS
    University of California, Davis - MS
  • Dietrich Schuhl

    Science Teacher
  • Jonathan Swift

    Director of the Thacher Observatory and Mathematics, Physics, and Astronomy Teacher
    University of California, Berkeley - PhD
    University of California, Los Angeles - BS