Chris Guides, Department Chair

The Friends’ Central science curriculum strives to foster a deep appreciation for the meaning and relevance of science, while cultivating the development of independent learners skilled in critical thinking and original analysis.

The sequence begins with Integrated Physics, taken by all students in grade 9. Developed by Friends’ Central teachers, this distinctive course explores central concepts in physics as a foundation of the course. It then integrates basic theories of chemistry and biology into the curriculum and finishes with a final culminating project that asks students to reflect and connect many of the concepts. Students learn the process of gathering, organizing, and interpreting scientific data in regular laboratory investigations.

Following Integrated Physics, students enroll in regular and advanced chemistry, biology, and physics classes which are available to students in grades 10, 11, and 12. Students passionate about science may choose to take more than one science course and can pursue a second level of advanced chemistry, biology, and physics.

Each class has an active and integrated lab program. Interested students in all grades may participate in the Distinguished Visiting Scientist Program over the course of the year. This program offers a regular seminar meeting for instruction and dialogue, visits and conversation with the visiting scientist, and summer travel to see scientists at work in the laboratory or the field.

Integrated Physics

This is the core course in the Upper School science program. The premise of this course is that the big ideas serving as the foundation of science are elegant in their simplicity but intricate in their many diverse applications. The course begins by examining how we distinguish between truth and beliefs. Following this, students explore central concepts in Physics: measurement, Newtonian motion, work/energy, thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, electromagnetic radiation, sound waves, atomic and molecular architecture, and the interconvertibility of matter and energy. These concepts serve as a core background to much of science theory and practice. Considerable class time is devoted to the use of problem-solving skills to explore the quantitative applications of these ideas. Given this groundwork, the final weeks of the course consider these ideas as they apply more specifically to atomic structure, molecular bonding, and selected topics in life science, particularly nucleic acid and protein chemistry in living organisms. Experiments are conducted during regular lab meetings and are chosen to illustrate important ideas and observations in the discovery of first principles of scientific understanding. Finally there is a project at the end of this course that asks students to reflect and show how many of the concepts are interconnected. This course is standard and required for all grade 9 students.  

Biology I

A major goal of the Biology course is to introduce students to basic biological processes, such as cell division or respiration, and to relate them to structural properties of cells and organisms. Another goal is to familiarize students with the concepts of modern biology, including patterns of inheritance and the molecular basis of heredity. Experiments in cellular respiration, enzyme function, and insect genetics present opportunities to refine students’ understanding of the scientific method as they collect and analyze data. Students study units in cellular biology, human physiology, genetics, and ecology. This course is open to students in grades 11 and 12.

Biology I Advanced

The Biology I Advanced course draws strongly on students’ chemistry training to gain a foundation in biochemistry, cell biology, classical and molecular genetics, and evolutionary biology. Students use this foundation to explore topics in human physiology, botany, and ecology. Students do extensive work on developing their science reading and writing skills and learn how to organize and think about large amounts of detailed information. The laboratories explore a variety of scientific techniques and give students experience in analyzing their own original data. At the end of the year, students have the opportunity to attend a field trip that provides a real-world context for ecological topics studied in the classroom. Prerequisite: Chemistry I or Chemistry I Advanced

Biology II Advanced - Genetics Super Lab

This course introduces students to cutting edge topics in molecular genetics from a research perspective. Through laboratory experiment and analysis of past and current literature, students will be introduced to the fundamentals of epigenetics, optogenetics, gene editing, and gene therapy - all of which are changing our understanding of life, complicating ethical perspectives and offering hope in treating disease. Students will be exposed to multiple model organisms and multiple techniques that are used in research laboratories around the world. They will also be asked to analyze lay and professional literature and begin to develop the scholarly skepticism required for critical research. Preparation for and attendance at the annual Annenberg High School Symposium, where students present on recent developments in a topic of their choice, will also be a part of this course. Prerequisite: Biology I Advanced. Permission Required.


The Biodiversity Studies course will focus on the role of ecological studies, evolutionary biology and molecular phylogenetics to understand the diversity of life on Earth. Central questions addressed in the course will include definitions of biodiversity and ways to measure it, how scientists estimate species richness in different habitats, and how conservation biologists work to address threats to biodiversity. The course will make use of a fine textbook, frequent readings from the scientific literature, and recorded interviews with scientists, together with video footage of biodiversity hotspots. The class will have a significant lab component that will develop molecular techniques in gene sequencing that are used to study relationships among species or look for unrecognized cryptic species, building on a ten-year research program in our lab. Students will have the opportunity to join one or more of the several trips to museums or field sites that focus on biodiversity studies and unique species assemblages. Open to grade 11 and 12 students. Prerequisite or corequisite: Biology I Advanced or Biology I/Botany with permission

Chemistry I

This course is an introduction to chemistry. Students build an understanding of fundamental concepts of chemistry and examine the nature of matter and of the physical world. The course emphasizes problem-solving strategies, methods of interpreting data, and the ability to explain scientific concepts. Lab sessions reinforce course topics and introduce students to fundamental laboratory practices. Beginning with atomic structure and the nature of the atom and extending through molecular structures and chemical reactions, topics covered include atomic structure, nuclear chemistry, bonding, molecular structure, stoichiometry, types of chemical reactions, thermodynamics, intermolecular forces, and gas laws. Open to students in grades 10, 11, and 12.

Chemistry I Advanced

Chemistry I Advanced, an introduction to chemistry for students who want to examine its fundamental concepts in more depth, explores the details of atomic structure, chemical reactions, molecular structure theory, and bonding mechanisms, gas laws, and electrochemistry. Advanced analytical problem-solving techniques are developed as students are introduced to abstract concepts in chemistry. Laboratory experiments offer opportunities to correlate experimental data collection and analysis with classroom content and to gain experience in laboratory-report writing and graphical representation of data. The course emphasizes quantitative reasoning and analytical thinking in both classroom and lab; strong quantitative skills are essential. Open to grades 10, 11, and 12. Permission required.

Chemistry II Advanced - Chemical Equilibrium

The reversibility of many chemical reactions that occur in nature, and others used in industrial processes, offer students the opportunity to explore the ideas of chemical equilibrium, where concentrations of reactants and products co-exist. Mathematical calculations determining the relative concentrations of the chemical species within reaction types are central to this course. Evaluating changes in concentrations during reaction fluxes is considered. Examples of chemical systems discussed include: ocean carbonate equilibria as it relates to climate change, acid/base/buffer reactions in biological systems, atmospheric oxygen content and hemoglobin-oxygen complex formation, solubility of metals in surface water, Haber process in the production of ammonia, and pharmaceutical applications of equilibrium. Prerequisite: Chemistry I Advanced. Permission required.

Chemical Kinetics and Electrochemistry

Chemical kinetics is studied using experimental data each student gathers at the start of the semester. Application of calculus to the derivation of Integrated Rate Laws that are used to describe the reaction data gathered allows for the overlap of math and science. However, calculus is not a prerequisite or corequisite for success in the class. Assessments are project-based and give each student the opportunity to apply, and refine, their fluency with graphical techniques and constructing laboratory reports. The final study in the two-year chemistry sequence is thermodynamics and electrochemistry. Chemical reaction spontaneity is defined, and equilibrium, entropy, enthalpy, and Gibbs Free energy are explored. Electrochemistry is studied through the functionality of batteries, solar energy, and the industrial electroplating process. Prerequisite: Chemistry I Advanced. Permission required.

Experiential Physics

This semester course focuses on the major themes of physics, emphasizing the exploration and development of key concepts before taking up mathematics and applications in problem solving. Conceptual understanding is a fundamental goal of the course. The big ideas of the physical universe are actually few in number and widely interrelated. This course will emphasize the concepts of physics in a manner that will make these interrelationships easier to recognize. Our study of physics will include careful observations of nature and thoughtful interpretation of why things happen the way they do. In the process, we will also consider applications of these ideas in the everyday world. Open to grades 11 and 12 only. Prerequisite: one year of Upper School science

Physics I Advanced

This course provides a survey of the most important topics in mechanics, with attention to analysis of one- and two-dimensional kinematics and dynamics, as well as rotational kinematics and dynamics. The class also includes some introduction to relativity to consider changes in space and time when traveling near light speed and thermodynamics, with a focus on the role played by energy in physical problems. Our goal is to present physics in a logical and coherent way while exposing students to problem-solving skills and some contemporary applications of physics in everyday life. Students enrolled in physics should have an adequate background in mathematics. This course is open to grades 10, 11, and 12. Prerequisite or corequisite: Precalculus Advanced AND permission of instructor

Physics II Advanced - Electricity & Circuits

In this course, students will build on the problem-solving and analytical skills developed in Physics I Advanced to study the classical laws governing electric charges. Through lecture, laboratory experimentation, and problem sets, the topics studied will include electric fields, electrical potential, current, circuit components, and AC and DC circuits. Group work is encouraged, exposing students to the collaborative nature at the heart of scientific inquiry. Both trigonometry and calculus will be used to examine the theory behind physical phenomena (although previous study of calculus is not required). Prerequisite: Physics I Advanced and Precalculus Advanced. Permission required without previously taking Physics I Advanced.

Magnetism, Waves, and Optics

Grounded in their knowledge of electric forces and circuits, students will study magnetism, electromagnetic theory (incorporating Maxwell’s equations), light, and optics. After completing these classical topics, modern physics topics will be explored, such as relativity, quantum mechanics, particle physics, material science, and fluid dynamics. This course will challenge students to apply rigorous mathematical analyses to physical problems and to question their intuition about the physical world. Prerequisites: Precalculus Advanced and Physics II Advanced Electricity and Circuits


This course is offered as a fall semester class for seniors who have an interest in the biology and ecology of plants and fungi, particularly those of economic importance to humans. The course will begin with a study of systematic biology and nomenclature, introducing students to the system of naming and classifying plants across diverse families. Additional topics will develop an understanding of the anatomy and life history of flowering plants, with special attention to the structures of the flower, seed dispersal strategies, plant-pollinator relationships, and the cellular makeup of leaf and stem tissues. Extensive outdoor fieldwork and active participation in regular discussions are important components of the course. Detailed investigations will be made in the areas of food plants, issues in modern food production systems and agriculture, and the chemistry of medicinal and drug plants. Open to grade 12 students. Prerequisite: Biology, Biology I Advanced, or permission of the instructor

Biology of Bodies

This course is for seniors who have taken Biology I or Biology I Advanced that delves into the anatomy, physiology, and pathology of vertebrate animals, including humans. Topics will vary with student interest and teacher expertise and will range from reviews of specific organ systems to developmental biology to the biological basis for diagnosis, therapies, and advances in the health and medical sciences. Anatomical dissection of biological material may be included in the course laboratory experience. Prerequisite: Biology, Biology I Advanced, or permission of the instructor


This course will guide students through a tour of the universe in four units. It starts with basic celestial orientation, and then the students learn how to find and then map significant markers in the sky over time. Students will study the changes in the sky over time, such as the seasonal movement of the Sun along the horizon and the phases of the Moon. We will also look at how astronomers analyze light from distant objects to probe their inner nature and the kinds of telescope specifications necessary for exploring different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Our second unit, a study of stars, will start with our Sun. We will look at how and why stars change over the course of their lifetimes, and how astronomers are able to understand these changes. Next, we will move beyond our own neighborhood to study the collections of stars we call galaxies, considering even the exotic types like QSOs and other active galaxies, and how all these play a role in understanding the origin and potential fate of the universe. Lastly, we will turn back to much more familiar territory, looking deeply at what has been learned about the worlds in our very own Solar System, and how understanding the geology near to us may help us in our search for other habitable worlds around other stars. This course will involve a laboratory component that will require occasional evening observing sessions on campus and at least one field trip to a local planetarium and/or observatory.

Atmospheric Science and Climate Change

This course is designed to consider the  sources of the individual atmospheric chemical constituents that are known to be the greenhouse gases, or gases that trap earth-borne radiation from escaping thus causing the rise in average global temperatures, how the constituents differ in their Greenhouse Warming Potential, and subsequent climate change impact that the constituents will likely impose on the global communities. Although global climate change is often discussed by considering average rise in global temperatures, there are select global regions that are being impacted to a greater extent by climate change than others. Students will consider these regions, specifically the Arctic region, explore the impact the melting ice sheet, the thawing permafrost, and the deterioration of Greenland’s ice mass will have on the state of the global climate, and evaluate the human toll in the regions by the rapidly changing conditions. A consideration of the scientific predictions for the future climate change impact on weather, ocean temperatures, and sea level rise will be made. A final piece of the course will be to evaluate the effectiveness of the United Nations’ attempts to lead the global political communities to respond to crisis.