From molecules to mountains.


The primary goal of the Science Department is to provide you with a foundation of scientific literacy necessary to play an informed and intelligent role in our modern technological society. The department offers a wide spectrum of required and elective courses so that, through exposure to both physical and life sciences, you will be introduced to the problem-solving skills, concrete and abstract ideas and laboratory techniques that encourage an understanding of science.

In the Science Department, learning takes place both in the classroom and in the field. You use the fully equipped science labs for a variety of investigations and take advantage of computers to collect and process data efficiently. Classes head outdoors to study the local creeks, chaparral, and nearby tide pools. If you’d like to pursue a topic in greater depth you can work individually with a faculty member or a professional scientist on a science research project. In recent years, students have designed projects in molecular genetics, nutritional research, and biochemistry.

Year course. Physics is an algebra-based physics course designed for freshmen. Students investigate the traditional concepts of motion, force, work, energy, waves, sound, and electricity, in preparation for chemistry. Instructional methods follow a research-based guided-inquiry model that capitalizes on hands-on, cooperative learning where students construct their knowledge and find answers to their questions as they investigate and practice scientific inquiry in the laboratory. Students demonstrate their knowledge and are evaluated using traditional assessments, scientific journaling, and performance assessments. The course emphasizes finding and describing patterns in nature, depth over breadth of material, fostering and leveraging disciplined curiosity, and sharpening scientific inquiry practices. Students should leave the course with a firm conceptual understanding of physics and the nature of science. In addition, students they will leave with many skills including, but not limited to, scientific inquiry practices, lab set up and design, and data collection and analysis using digital probes and software.

Year course. Physics with Trigonometry is the foundational science class for incoming freshmen at Cate with an advanced mathematical background. Students will construct an understanding of how things move (kinematics) and why things move (dynamics) as they conduct laboratory investigations and build conceptual and mathematical models. Students will also explore the great conservation laws, those of momentum and energy, as they deepen their understanding of the physical world. Finally, students will examine wave phenomena, from oceans to earthquakes, as a manifestation of the movement of energy. Throughout, students will develop their skills in inquiry as they ask and answer questions while conducting hands-on, collaborative investigations. Students will learn to approach problems through and as an extension of their deep conceptual understanding. Upon completion, students will be well-prepared to continue the application of scientific inquiry practices, digital data collection, organization, and analysis to chemistry, biology, and the rest of the Cate science curriculum.

Year course. This introductory lab-based course is designed to foster deductive reasoning in the context of environmental challenges. The curriculum will examine material, atmospheric, organic, water, and nuclear chemistry. After completing this year course students will be able to describe matter in terms of elements, atoms, compounds, and any changes in these fundamental building blocks during chemical reactions. They will be able to explain chemical and physical properties of materials through an understanding of the structure and arrangement of atoms, ions or molecules and the forces between them. Students will recognize that changes in matter involve the rearrangement of atoms and the sharing or transfer of electrons. They will be able to apply the laws of thermodynamics first explored in physics to explain and predict the direction of changes in matter.

Year Course. This rigorous introductory lab-based course is designed to foster scientific thinking at a high level in the context of environmental challenges. This course is designed for students who, in the previous year, have consistently demonstrated a high aptitude and attitude for doing science. The curriculum will examine material, atmospheric, organic, aquatic, nuclear, industrial, and food chemistry. Open to sophomores placed in Math 30. Prerequisites: High achievement in Physics and departmental permission. Co-Requisite: Math 30, or higher.

Year course. This introductory biology course explores the core topics of ecology, cell biology, genetics, and evolution in the context of global environmental and ecological issues. Laboratory inquiry and collaborative research will be stressed in each of these major units and will involve students in real-world problems. A rigorous laboratory component supports the exploration of these topics while involving students in the process of science as they pose questions and employ sophisticated equipment and concepts to conduct experiments to answers to these questions. Students will further develop their skills in scientific communication through formal scientific writing and presentations.

Year course. This rigorous first-year survey course is designed to foster scientific thinking at a high level and addresses the core topics of ecology, cell biology, genetics, and evolution while placing a particular emphasis on biological systems at the molecular level. The successful student, with some additional work outside of the course and a commitment to test preparation, will be positioned to perform well on the SAT Subject Test in Biology. Prerequisite: High achievement in Chemistry and departmental permission.

Year Course – .33 credits/trimester.

Fall course: Advanced Molecular and Cellular Biology
Winter course: Advanced Genetics and Heredity
Spring course: Advanced Marine Biology and Ecology of the Pacific

This second year, a college-level course will explore molecular and cellular biology, genetics and heredity, and evolution and ecology through the lens of marine biology. Students are expected to design and carry out independent inquiries and perform statistical analyses of their results. Due to the rigor and pace of this course, there is an additional required early morning laboratory time commitment. This course will include significant field work as well as potential after-hours connections through the school’s scuba diving program. Prerequisites: High achievement in Chemistry, Biology and departmental permission. Co-Requisite: Math 30, or higher.

Year course. This course is the equivalent of an introductory college course. Each unit begins with a quick review of topics studied in Honors Chemistry and moves quickly to in-depth examinations of atomic and molecular structure, thermochemistry, states of matter, kinetics, equilibrium, oxidation and reduction, and thermodynamics. Emphasis is placed on developing problem-solving skills and understanding the experimental basis of theories. The course has an extensive laboratory component, with many of the labs being guided inquiry.

Year course. This course examines the integrated system of physical, chemical, biological, and human interactions that determine the past, current, and future states of the Earth. Laboratory and fieldwork allow students to explore course concepts. The course proceeds through three main topics:
Human Population and Resources:
An analysis of the prevailing model of human population dynamics and the factors that affect food production, water availability, and ecosystem services.
Earth’s Climate: Past and Future:
An examination of the evidence of the Earth’s last 550 million years of climate change and an evaluation of the models for predicting future climate.
Energy, the Environment, and Policy:
An exploration of atmospheric pollution and energy development and an analysis of the regional and international political efforts to address them.

A two-term (fall and winter) commitment is required for the mechanics portion of the course. The first two terms are modeled after an introductory college-level calculus-based college course that explores kinematics; Newton’s laws of motion; work, energy, and power; systems of particles and linear momentum; circular motion and rotation; and oscillations and gravitation with some electricity and magnetism. The spring term will focus on Modern Physics. Due to the rigor and pace of this course, additional required laboratory time is required. Prerequisite: Physics and departmental permission. Co-Requisites: Math 50, or higher.

Fall trimester. This trimester elective examines the details by which genetic information is transferred from one generation to the next and how that information is transformed into the physical expression of traits. Students will begin by identifying basic cell structure, distinguishing between asexual and sexual reproduction, and learning to recognize the basic patterns of inheritance described by Gregor Mendel and to predict the outcome of crosses using Punnett Squares. Advanced studies will include the ability to distinguish more subtle patterns of inheritance, such as sex-linked traits, incomplete and co-dominance, multiple alleles and linked genes, as well as types and effects of different chromosomal mutations. The course will conclude with an examination of the interaction between genes and the environment. Lab work will include the examination of cell anatomy and reproduction, the application of modes of inheritance to crosses with living organisms (yeast), and modeling an experiment to determine the effects of the environment and heredity on human behavior. Students will discuss and debate the ethical issues raised by their studies in stem cells, reproductive technology and eugenics.

Winter trimester. This advanced course of study examines the biochemistry of the gene and the applications of current biotechnology. Students will identify the molecular structure of DNA and the mechanics of DNA replication and protein synthesis. Some of the more recent discoveries in molecular genetics will be introduced in order to enhance students’ appreciation of the complexity and intricacy of gene expression. Students will become proficient with current biotechnological skills and techniques involving DNA extraction, gel electrophoresis, the polymerase chain reaction, and genetic engineering. Students will simulate, using actual DNA and professional grade equipment, scenarios in crime scene forensics, DNA sequencing, and DNA microarrays. Each student will extract, amplify, and analyze a section of his/her own DNA, and genetically engineer and clone bacteria to produce a genetically modified organism. Throughout the course, students will consider and discuss the ethical dilemmas associated with the development of these revolutionary ideas and techniques.

Fall trimester. The world ocean, which covers 70% of the Earth’s surface, is the defining feature of our planet. This elective examines the major physical forces that created our planet and continue to be at work to maintain the ocean as a dynamic. Beginning with important concepts in earth structure and plate tectonics, students will examine how the interaction of the world ocean with continental landmasses and the atmosphere shape the features of our planet. Students will use a variety of Internet resources, such as real-time satellite images, USGS and NOAA data, and color-enhanced and infrared imagery, to explore and better understand how the ocean’s chemistry, three-dimensional structure, and global circulation, create the range of habitat that supports Earth’s rich marine biosphere.

Winter trimester. California’s 1,100-mile coastline is an iconic geographical feature and one of the State’s most precious resources. This course examines the geological and oceanographic processes that have shaped California’s coast, and created a diverse and rich chain of biological communities. Students will explore the ecology and community structure of California’s biological marine resources with an emphasis on tidal areas and near shore marine communities.The political and financial ramifications and ecological efficacy of fishery management in coastal waters will be considered in the context of human impact on California’s coastline. This course will require two extended field trips and local fieldwork. Our work off campus will focus on an understanding of the nature of California’s active coastline.

Spring trimester. This course examines the marine environment as vast interconnected living space with diverse and unique ecosystems distributed horizontally by latitude as well as vertically through the water column — from the pelagic surface and to the abyssal depths. Students will survey major groups of organisms that populate these communities and examine the patterns of interaction that characterize marine ecosystems. Lab work will emphasize representative adaptive strategies of animals from the world ocean’s most significant warm and cold-water communities. Field trips will include a day at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific.

Winter trimester. Students in the course will further their knowledge and understanding through increased emphasis on practical utilization of skills and knowledge. Coursework will emphasize the hands-on application of assessment techniques and design of appropriate rehabilitation plans based upon case study materials, theoretical scenarios, and observational experiences with athletic trainers and physicians. Students will complete advanced coursework in the areas of anatomy, physiology, exercise physiology and kinesiology. Emphasis will also be placed on the profession of athletic training and concepts related to the practice, professional responsibilities and advancement of the profession.

Fall trimester. This course will serve as a basic introduction to the fields of exercise physiology and kinesiology, physical therapy, emergency management and orthopedic medicine. Through a variety of hands-on experiences and laboratory inquiries, students will be exposed to the basic skills and concepts relating to the prevention, recognition and management of athletic injury, as well as the collaborative health care approach utilized by sports medicine professionals. Students will increase their knowledge and awareness of human anatomy and physiology, a variety of health-related conditions, basic first aid and emergency management procedures.