Upper School Applied Science & Engineering

Students learn design, optimization, and tinkering skills in the School’s state-of-the-art Whitaker Lab.

Video: Tour of Whitaker Lab

Design. Tinker. Innovate.

Our Applied Science and Engineering department seeks to develop a deep understanding of core skills and knowledge necessary to be successful in the fields of experimental science and engineering. 

The courses in this department offer students the opportunity to do real-world science and engineering and are designed to tap into the student’s passions. The predominant mode of learning is by doing. Students will apply and build upon the knowledge learned in their standard math and science classes in the context of exciting and innovative projects. Along the way, students will learn essential and practical new skills used in today’s Silicon Valley. Students will learn design, optimization, and tinkering skills. Based in the School’s state-of-the-art Whitaker Lab, students have opportunities to work with cutting-edge tools like microcontrollers, CAD, robotics equipment, laser cutters, and 3D printers. The courses employ an iterative method of learning while developing curiosity and building critical thinking skills along the way. Students in grade 10 and above have the opportunity to enroll in Applied Science and Engineering courses. In the Freshman Seminar course, all ninth graders complete a project that provides them with a brief introduction to the possibilities within our engineering labs. This project also certifies that every ninth-grade student is equipped to participate safely in our engineering courses, clubs, or individual projects.

View Student Testimonials for science, applied science and engineering elective courses

Applied Science & Engineering Faculty

Applied Science & Engineering Course Offerings

Grade: 1112

Applied Science Research (H)

This is a course for students interested in studying advanced topics in engineering and science, students who envision a career in science or engineering, and/or students who are curious about how things work. The first semester students will explore electric motors, atmospheric science, the engineering of space travel and a craftsmanship project. Specifically, students will build a multi-phase electric motor and launch a payload via weather balloon high above the Earth’s atmosphere into space. This course is student centered and student driven. Students have great latitude in their choice of the topics, experiments, and projects. Students will learn the design, prototyping process and how to take and analyze data in order to optimize their projects. Students will also learn how to read and write engineering and scientific papers. In the second semester, they will specialize on one topic of their choice. This can be a research an engineering project or a science project. Possible topics range from what makes a baseball curve, building 21st-century prosthetics, green energy projects, to building a Tesla coil to particle physics to your idea. At the conclusion of the 2nd semester each student will write a science or engineering paper and give a final presentation at the Menlo Maker Faire.

Prerequisites: Complete Physics and Accelerated Chem with a B+ or Conceptual Chem with an A- or get permission from Dr. Dann.

View student testimonials for this course and other science courses here.

Grade: 12

Biotechnology Research (H)

The course provides a unique opportunity for students with self-discipline and a curious mind to learn cutting-edge lab techniques and to put those techniques to use in a major independent project. Class time is spent mostly on hands-on lab work. The first semester involves learning techniques in cell culture, molecular biology, bacteriology, immunochemistry, and protein biochemistry, as well as learning to read and write scientific papers. In the second semester, students carry out an independent research project, either here at Menlo or off-campus in an academic or industry lab, by agreement between the student and mentor. As with AP courses, students will continue their work for this class through the first two weeks of May.

Prerequisites: Complete Chemistry and Biology and pass an application process through Ms. Buxton. Access the application form here.

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Grade: 101112

Mechanical and Electrical Engineering

This is a yearlong course that switches topic midyear.

If you like to make things and break things, then this course is for you. This course will provide students with an introduction to mechanical engineering with an emphasis on hands-on activities and projects. We’ll take things apart to understand how they work, and we’ll apply what we learn to build things. Topics will include drafting, CAD using Inventor, dimensioning, tolerances, materials, fasteners, gears, bearings, actuators, and other mechanisms. Students will be introduced to the engineering design process, and they will learn about the role of mechanical engineers in industry. The course will take place in the Whitaker Lab and students will be trained on the majority of the tools in the lab.

In this course, you will amaze your friends, while you will dive into the fascinating world of electronics. You will learn how to solder, use capacitors, timing chips, work with solar energy and transistors in order to make a garden light and make laser trip wires to trigger scary things. You will learn how to amplify sound (op-amps). You will learn how to make electronic switches (transistors). You will learn how to move things (solenoids and linear motors). Most importantly you will develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills in a real-world setting by making cool stuff. There is very little nightly homework, but instead, it is expected that you put in extra time each week in the lab to work on your circuits or major project. The culminating project for this class is a musée mécanique exhibit to be shown at the Maker Faire.

Prerequisites: Prerequisite is B- in Physics or Conceptual Physics. This is a sophomore/junior level course.

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Grade: 101112


Interdisciplinary Course: This course combines biology and electronics using a hands-on, scaffolding approach. This approach is three-pronged: (1) perform experiments using electrodes to detect actual neuronal activity in a living system, (2) learn the underlying biology of how that aspect of the nervous system works, and (3) build mechanical and/or electrical models.

Course Description:

It is said that understanding the human brain is one of the last frontiers; this course you will take a step toward that goal. You will take an adventure that is thought only possible in fictional writing like Frankenstein and along the way you will learn electronics, experimental techniques and neurobiology. We will explore the fascinating topic of how the brain and peripheral nervous system work by studying the electrical signals that encode neuronal messages, how sensory inputs are detected and how motor outputs are executed, and how the brain processes and creates meaning of your experience.

By building models, doing experiments and studying the biology you will investigate the following in the first semester of the class:

  • How do your sensory neurons collect, encode and transmit information about your environment for you?
  • How do your motor neurons get activated and how do they control the contraction of your muscles, allowing you to respond to your environment?
  • How fast do signals actually travel within neurons?
  • How does the nervous system “tune out” a stimulus that continues for an extended period?
  • In the second semester, we will examine:
  • How does the brain create your perception of reality?
  • How do medicinal and recreational drugs alter neuron function?
  • How does learning work and what is memory?
  • What is going on when things go wrong (like schizophrenia)?

Prerequisites: Completion of Physics with a B or better or by special approval from the teachers. This is a junior level course, but sophomores and seniors are welcome.

View student testimonials for this course and other science courses here.

Grade: 101112

Sustainable Earth Engineering

This is an interdisciplinary, project-based course in the Whitaker Lab on water, pollution, and energy. Students will design, build and test innovative projects pertaining to water creation and management, pollution mitigation and eradication, and sustainable energy.  

The adventure will start with a study of water’s role in the rise and fall of civilizations throughout history and throughout the world, including our very own California. Students will design, build and study various innovations for water lifting, storing, and distribution. The adventure continues with a study of how plants and animals survive with little-to-no water in severe desert regions and how we can use these bio-engineered solutions for human survival. Next, we study the exponential growth of the human population and the increasingly negative impact on the planet. Drinking water is getting polluted, plastics are damaging our ocean ecosystems, and the planet is experiencing an unprecedented change in climate. We don’t stop there, however; we prototype solutions! The final topic will be the future of energy. Students will study all aspects of energy including production, transmission, storage, and consumption. Students will end the year with a deep dive project into the future of water, pollution, and energy as it pertains to our very survival by innovating solutions that will keep us thriving on planet Earth.  

Throughout the course, students will do hands-on projects that will help them develop a much deeper understanding of the material. This work will force us to be creative and innovative, yet tempered with practicality.

This class is open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors who have a passion for innovation, solving problems, and thinking out of the box. Students will be required to be trained on various tools in the Whitaker Lab.

View student testimonials for this course and other science courses here.

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