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 Biology

    This course is designed for students who have successfully completed the introductory science sequence and elect to continue at the most accelerated pace in Thacher’s science program, with a concentration in the biological sciences. It provides an in-depth study of a number of topics that were introduced in the introductory sequence, but that were not covered in depth. Students will be engaged in individual, group, and class-wide understanding of the topics before engaging in independent research that will help to solidify their understanding of the topics. Emphasis will be placed on scientific research, experimental design, project completion, data analysis, and the general format of scientific papers/research. Students will be given tremendous latitude to design their experiments and research projects as they apply to the particular topics. Results of these
    research projects will be designed to share with not only their peers in the class but also
    the greater school community and beyond.

  • Advanced Chemistry: Applications in Art & Archaeology

    This year-long course provides students who have completed their introductory study of physics, chemistry, and biology in the Integrated Science 1 and Integrated Science 2 year-long courses at Thacher with additional exposure to more advanced principles and topics in chemistry (including radiometric dating, stoichiometry, solutions, solubility & precipitation, oxidation-reduction reactions, kinetics, acids & bases, chemical equilibrium, thermodynamics and molecular structure & spectroscopy) as they apply to the production, analysis, historical understanding, restoration, conservation and authentication of works of art and cultural heritage. Seven broad and overlapping units will be covered:
    1. Painting: Pigments, Binders, Surfaces, & Analysis
    2. Pottery & Ceramics
    3. Metallic Artifacts
    4. Glasses
    5. Methods of Scientific Analysis
    6. Principles of Art Restoration & Conservation
    7. Scientific Verification of Provenance and Forgery Detection
    Laboratory work will have students conduct hands-on, quantitative chemistry experiments as they create their own artistic materials and projects. Students will be introduced to primary source scientific publications by reading and critically evaluating work in the fields of archaeometry, art restoration, and conservation science using a 'case-studies' approach. Multiple forms of assessment will be utilized to gauge each student's synthesis and understanding of the material, including: quizzes, tests, laboratory reports, oral presentations, scientific posters, infographics, student-generated videos, student-generated works of art, formal papers, and 'real-world' document-based queries.

  • Advanced Environmental Science

    Advanced Environmental Science is an interdisciplinary course that uses the principles of biology, ecology, ocean and atmospheric science, chemistry, geology, physics, geography, economics, political science, and ethics to understand and propose solutions for complex environmental issues. After introductory units on sustainability, geology, matter, energy, geochemical cycling and ecology, students will pursue a brief survey of the major topics that can be explored and then students will choose the specific topics the class will study. Bringing these topics together and making connections between them can be challenging, but also makes the course especially meaningful and relevant. The goals of the course are to (1) provide students with the scientific principles, concepts, and methodologies required to understand the interrelationships in the natural world, (2) identify and analyze environmental problems or challenges, (3) to evaluate the relative risks associated with these problems, (4) to examine alternative solutions for resolving and/or preventing these problems, and (5) develop the habits and skills which support
    student agency with respect to independent learning, resilience, and accountability.

  • Advanced Physics: Astronomy Based

    Advanced Physics: Astronomy Based
    This course is a rigorous, year-long, upper-level physical science course that broadens one’s appreciation and understanding of the nuanced processes throughout the cosmos that have led to the existence of Earth and the birth of life as we know it. Through the study of astrophysics, students will deepen and advance their mastery of physics, chemistry, thermodynamics, radiation, quantitative reasoning, and scientific computing. Modern statistical techniques common in all science and engineering disciplines are used throughout, and collaborative, goal-oriented learning that includes components of written and oral presentation and thoughtful criticism is emphasized. Students will also learn how to use the Thacher Observatory and will be able to formulate observational plans and carry them through to completion.
  • 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 Psychology

    Psychology is the study of behavior and mental other words, the study of what we do and why we do it. Rooted in brain science, this course provides students with a broad sweep of psychology using studies/experiments, interesting phenomena, and both historical and current events as a framework for better understanding. Considering human behavior from a variety of perspectives, students will learn about growth and development, learning, memory, sensation and perception, motivation and emotion, sleep, stress, personality, sexuality, identity, social psychology, and psychological disorders. They will analyze real-world situations through a psychological lens, and they will apply concepts to their own identity through a variety of reflective exercises and writing opportunities. The emphasis of the course will be on understanding psychology from the point of view of personal growth and increased empathy for/awareness of others within the context of a socially and culturally complex world.
  • Astronomy Research

    This year-long class provides students with a unique opportunity to engage in meaningful astronomical research and to interact with the professional community through international collaborations and conferences. Our studies leverage Thacher’s research-grade observatory and its fully automated capabilities to produce timely images and measurements that help to advance the world community’s understanding of the cosmos in which we live. There is a research legacy in several distinct areas; the detection and characterization of eclipsing binary stars and transiting exoplanets; the nightly monitoring of interesting targets, such as Tabby’s Star and active galactic nuclei; a search for nearby supernovae; and the development of customized automation software for our observatory. However, there is always the possibility of creating a new research path for the school. This is a demanding course that operates less like a typical high school class and more like a typical research group at the university level and requires a high level of independent study and self-motivation.
  • Biology: Life Sciences

    This course builds upon the foundational science studied in Integrated Science 2, exploring a number of life science concepts including taxonomy, cell-to-cell communication, and trophic relationships in the context of marine life. We will explore ocean currents and the forces that drive them to set the abiotic stage for organisms found in the ocean environment. Using a taxonomic approach, we will then begin with microscopic, unicellular organisms such as phytoplankton and continue through the major groups of marine invertebrates. As each group is considered, ecological connections and environmental concerns will be highlighted as the habitats and behaviors of example organisms are discussed. Laboratory periods will be spent completing a variety of activities, including dissection, research projects, algae presses, microscopy, and group and individual projects. Assessments will include short quizzes, lab assignments, group projects, and independent research. This course is part of a three-trimester sequence: courses to follow include marine biology, ecology and/or veterinary medicine.
  • 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
  • Field Biology and Conservation

    Field Biology and Conservation will cover the topics of field biology and conservation through our unique location in the Ojai Valley. This course will explore multiple areas of science: we will practice and gain experience in observation and hypothesis formulation, hypothesis testing, research design, data collection, statistical analysis, graphing, presentation, and writing. Throughout the term, students put all this training to service in answering questions and solving challenges of their own conceiving. We will spend our time in two distinct but amazing locations, the Los Padres National Forest and the Turtle Conservancy. Students will learn many field techniques such as GPS tracking, drone mapping, camera traps, ethograms, habitat assessments, and water testing. We understand that global issues can be studied through local systems and will leverage this throughout our course. Students will also study and work on conservation efforts for the Southern Pacific Pond Turtle, our vulnerable and only native turtle. Students will set up a field station in the Sespe to begin gathering longitudinal data in cooperation with the USGS. Students should expect to spend a considerable amount of time outside the classroom for this project-based and team-oriented class.
  • Integrated Science I

    As the first science class students take at Thacher, this course introduces students to scientific exploration of the physical phenomena that shape their world and their daily experiences and the fundamental building blocks of matter and the chemical reactions that occur between them. This course will also develop their skills in logic, formal analytical thought, quantitative measurement, data analysis, and experimental design. The first two trimesters will focus on physics concepts beginning with a discussion of data collection, data reduction and error analysis, and continuing with the study of kinematics, Newton’s laws, momentum, energy, gravity, vibrations and waves. In the spring trimester, we will shift our focus to an examination of chemistry topics such as atomic structure, nuclear chemistry, electron configurations, the periodic table, chemical bonding, molecular shape and polarity, and chemical reactions and equations. The course includes a number of co-curricular laboratory explorations undertaken in conjunction with the mathematics department so that students can begin to develop their appreciation for how the two disciplines inform each other. Student performance is assessed through daily class participation, frequent quizzes, exploratory laboratory work that utilizes computerized data collection, group and individual projects, and several unit tests.
  • Integrated Science II

    This second year of fundamental science utilizes and further develops the measurement and quantitative skills introduced and practiced in the Integrated Science I course. The first trimester will focus on chemistry concepts including: reaction stoichiometry, gas laws, condensed states of matter, phase diagrams, changes of state, solutions, and solubility-precipitation concepts. Chemical principles are discussed in the context of industrial applications along with environmental and social issues. In the final two trimesters of the foundational coursework, we will shift our focus to an examination of the biological world, which will include topics such as biological molecules, cell structure, DNA, protein synthesis, photosynthesis, cellular respiration, cell division, genetics, and evolution. Student performance is assessed through daily class participation, frequent quizzes, exploratory laboratory work that utilizes computerized data collection, group and individual projects, and several unit tests. Completion of the Integrated Science 1 and Integrated Science 2 courses will provide students the foundational knowledge and skills upon which further understanding, and more in-depth exploration can be built in advanced courses in the sciences.


  • Photo of Heather Grant
    Heather Grant
    Science Department: Biology and Chemistry Teacher
    Mount Holyoke College - BA
    Montana State University - MS
  • Photo of Delaney  Cargo
    Delaney Cargo
    University of Michigan - Master of Science
    Grand Valley State University - Bachelor of Science
  • Photo of Megan Carney
    Megan Carney
    Director of Student Life
    Princeton University - AB
    Harvard University - EdM
  • Photo of Nicole Chung
    Nicole Chung
  • Photo of Julia  Harris
    Julia Harris
  • Photo of Jonathan Swift
    Jonathan Swift
    Mathematics, Physics, and Astronomy Teacher and Director of the Thacher Observatory
    University of California, Berkeley - PhD
    University of California, Los Angeles - BS
  • Photo of Christopher Vyhnal
    Christopher Vyhnal
    Chair of the Science Department; Chemistry and Geology Teacher
    Colgate University - BA
    University of Tennessee - MS
    Dartmouth College - PhD
Notice of nondiscriminatory policy as to students: The Thacher School admits students of any race, color, national, and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the School. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other School-administered programs.