Elective Detective: Unique Magnet Courses
by Nikhita Bhatt '25 for Silver Quest
Chemistry of Art
Chemistry of Art is an engaging, hands-on elective that dives deep into the intersection between art and chemistry. It studies the applications of chemistry as found in artistic materials, art restoration, color theory, art degradation, and analyzing forgeries. There is a unit on photography, where students use a darkroom, as well as units on why certain colors look a certain way and on metal sculpture. This class is for everyone, regardless of artistic abilities. Due to the nature of the course, there are labs almost every day. Some labs include analyzing how different dyes affect different pieces of fabric, dying silk scarves, and determining whether a painting is real or a forgery. This class takes a look at art throughout the ages and all different mediums of art. Before the pandemic, the class visited the National Museum of Asian Art in Washington, D.C., where they got to go behind the scenes at the restoration department. If you are an artist looking to gain more perspective on your craft, a chemistry enthusiast wanting to learn more about chemistry in a unique way, or just someone who wants to take a fun course, this class is definitely something for you.
Analysis of Equity and Identity in STEM
Analysis of Equity and Identity in STEM, taught by Mr. Culver and Mrs. Duval, provides a framework for students to critically examine how human characteristics influence STEM fields. Designed by the magnet class of 2020 alumni Matthew Shu and Justin Haddad, the course aims to answer questions like how our personal identities as humans influence the STEM process (initial research, experimentation, results, and application of those results). How do personal biases impact how research is done? How do gender and race impact the way we think about science? The course starts with a historical overview of STEM and talks about how intersectional considerations around identities have influenced the STEM field we know today. They cover topics like the Tuskegee experiments, discrimination in AI, and gender disparities in STEM careers. The course also has a research component that involves students observing magnet classes and peer interactions. Students then use their observations to look at equity considerations within the magnet. So, students will be participating in real-time research that could help improve the magnet program! Those who take the class will gain perspective into inequities in STEM and how to help combat them.
Neuroscience is an exciting course that delves deep into neurobiology and neuropathology. Neuroscience teacher Dr. Delaney plans to tailor the course to the students' interests. At the beginning of the semester, he will ask students what they would like to cover, which he calls a “curriculum bash”. This makes the curriculum personalized towards the interests of the people in the class. The course has an emphasis on the intersection of neuroscience and artificial intelligence, as machine learning programs mirror the way the human brain works. Thus, students interested in computer science would also enjoy this course because of the parallels between the two disciplines. Computer simulations of the brain are frequent in this course, as are dissections and interesting neural experiments. Something especially interesting that is covered is the concept of neuroplasticity which is the brain’s ability to reorganize. This is significant because learning about this concept helps students understand how the brain develops and how it recovers from injury. The highly tailored, very interdisciplinary nature of this course makes it useful and interesting for any student.
Astronomy is a spectacular, or should I say stellar, elective that mainly focuses on the universe and Earth’s place in it. It covers topics like stellar evolution, supernovas, the cosmic distance scale, cosmology and the origins of the universe. Though the course covers many of the big-picture things about the universe, it also gives students a fundamental understanding of the solar system. For a notable project, students get to come to Blair at night to look at the stars with advanced telescopes. Astronomy can be a daunting subject, but Mr. Lodal and Mr. Donaldson break it down into digestible pieces, making it a really unique course. Astronomy is a subject that is becoming increasingly important given that the future of humanity lies in space, and students interested in it have the perfect opportunity to get to know the fundamentals through this elective.
Complex Analysis provides an opportunity for students to take a course similar to what one would find in a college. Students apply calculus fundamentals, like curves, limits, derivatives, and integrals, to complex numbers. Using the complex number system, students learn how to prove theorems such as Nouvelle’s Theorem and the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra. The proofs are rigorous, but lead to surprisingly elegant solutions. Rather than being assigned homework every class, students are given a few problem sets a month where they are encouraged to work collaboratively, making this different from the other mathematical courses at Blair. Students also meet with the teacher, Mr. Schwartz, biweekly to discuss mathematical topics, in lieu of traditional tests. In conclusion, this course will challenge students and prepare them for higher education.