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Your High School Science Journey

Scientists have received a lot of attention over the past couple years. They have accomplished what few thought possible: the development of multiple life-saving vaccines for a brand-new disease in record time. Where would we be without them?

As brilliant and knowledgeable as these scientists are, they weren’t born knowing how to create these vaccines. They each gradually built their scientific knowledge over the course of their lifetimes, and each step along their journeys was an important one. Even though the work of these scientists is highly specialized now, they all started with just the basics, just as you are doing, and will continue to build upon throughout high school. So, ask yourself: What is your path? How will you build your science foundation?

Your first step is to figure out your high school’s science requirements, which will probably include one course in each of biology, chemistry, and physics. As you explore these basics, make note of anything that intrigues you. For example, perhaps the carbon cycle and organic chemistry are topics that you found relevant to your everyday life and would be curious to dive into more deeply. In that case, you might want to check out AP Chemistry or AP Environmental Science. If the workings of ecosystems or the structure of a cell grabs your attention, look into AP Biology; if you’re fascinated by optics or magnetism, why not investigate AP Physics?

Or maybe your school offers an advanced elective on astronomy, geology, or biotechnology? Even if you’re just starting out your high school career now, it’s useful to start imagining where you might head in a couple years. Beyond the requirements, electives are your opportunity to explore something of interest that is a bit more specialized, say, anatomy, physiology, forensics, sociology, or economics. Work with your school counselor to select courses that cover the requirements as well as your interests.

But how will these high school science courses be different from what you’ve taken so far? In high school science, you can expect a higher level of complexity and uncertainty. Let me show you what I mean — we’ll take electrons as an example. You’ve probably already learned how electrons are arranged outside an atom’s nucleus, and you might have drawn these electrons in neat paths circling the nucleus. Awesome — that’s a great way to start learning about electrons because it captures a key concept: electrons only exist in defined energy levels, and each energy level can only hold a fixed number of electrons. But these electrons are not obediently orbiting their nucleus as planets orbit the sun. Instead, they exist in a probability cloud. We don’t actually know their exact location! We only know the areas where they might be at any point in time.

So as you can see, you’ve already learned some of the basic rules of science, and you’ll continue learning more of them. But in high school, you’ll also learn about the exceptions to these rules — and the exceptions to these exceptions. Like in life, science gets more complicated and challenging as time goes on — but it also gets more rewarding the deeper in you dig.

Finally, let me just point out that even if you’re not currently planning on becoming a scientific researcher, scientific literacy and scientific reasoning skills will be essential for you moving forward. To engage the world you’re growing into, think of all the issues in front of us all: climate change, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, medical innovations, exploring the solar system, driverless cars, even the technology of your future homes. No matter where your career takes you, your science education will be invaluable.

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