Scoping Out the Science Department


Staff Writer Sydney Goldstein ’22 sat down with Mr. Paul Oberto, director of the Class of 2017 EFX Lab and instructor in chemistry, and Mr. Tovi Spero, instructor in physics, to get a glimpse of what is happening in the science department and ways to get involved in the EFX Lab.

Mr. Oberto:

What would you like to see changed in the school’s science program?

“I would like to see our upper-level electives have more of a focus on independent research. We have a couple [of]  courses [based around research], but I think it would be a nice unifying theme for our upper-level courses to move in a more independent-research-based direction. [This does not apply to] high-level technical classes, but there are ways for a course to be independent-project oriented at the appropriate level.”

What sparked the creation of the Class of 2017’s EFX Lab?

“A lot of [the original motive] came from prospective students and parents, as well as a recognition by our faculty of a gap in our physical space and also [in] our program around engineering, robotics, coding  [and] STEM-type courses that many of our peer schools have. We did not really have as many avenues for our students to pursue [those interests], not only in the curriculum, but also in the co-curriculum. We felt like [not having a space like the EFX Lab] was a gap in our program [so that our students were] lacking the set of skills not just desirable for college or the workforce, but also which engage [them] in valuable types of thinking and problem-solving.”

Which classes use the EFX Lab?

“In the fall, our astronomy class uses the EFX Lab…for a lot of computer, design, and fabrication work. We are piloting [a] new physics-focused Prep Science course which meets in the lab, and our two engineering electives, fall and spring, meet in there in addition to the fall and winter co-curricular programs [in Robotics].”

Without being a part of a class or co-curricular that uses the EFX Lab, how can students use it during their own time?

“They can do a lot. Students can do a lot of building, making, [and] prototyping on a small and a larger scale. Students can [make their ideas happen] with the use of laser-cutters, traditional hand-tools, and woodworking skills. For something like electronics or robotics, you can build up parts as well.”

Mr. Spero:

Over the next few years, do you anticipate science classes being added to or removed from the course catalog?

“The science course catalog may change quite a bit in the next couple of years. Hotchkiss is moving to a Physics-first model, where all Preps take physics. This will phase out the current Prep Core class. Beyond that, additional courses, especially electives, [may be] added, but those conversations are ongoing.”

Do you believe students and faculty will adapt to change in the program quickly?

“I think that the Science Department is excited by a change in curriculum, and I’m sure the student body will adjust instantly, since new Preps will have this curriculum as their default going forward.”

How can students involve themselves in science outside the classroom?

“Great ways to get involved with STE(A)M (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) outside of the classroom would be to sign up for the EFX/Robotics co-curricular. Beyond robots, many students decide on an engineering design project for the term and are guided through the use of hand tools, power tools, 3D printers, our industrial laser cutter, and more. Projects are largely self-directed and can encompass art, technology, and whatever else tickles your fancy.”

How are students becoming involved with the EFX Lab?

“Some classes have done maker projects in the EFX lab, such as catapults for math, instruments for AP Physics 2, and Arduino circuits for AP Physics 1. Students have also used the space for engineering classes and independent projects.”

Are there any ways in which students who do not take classes in the lab can use it in the future?

“If you have an idea for a project, come by! We have several teachers involved with the EFX lab space – including myself, Mr. Golini, and Mr. Oberto, who runs the space.”