Cluster 3: Chemical Explanations for the Existence and Demise of Marine Mammals: How Science Can Help

Cluster 3:  Chemical Explanations for the Existence and Demise of Marine Mammals: How Science Can Help

This cluster will give students an active-hands-on approach to exploring key concepts of marine mammal biology and how principals of chemistry are used to explain these topics. Students will investigate the life history, physiology, and conservation of marine mammals (seals, sea lions, dolphins, whales, and sea otters) living just off our shores. In addition, students will learn basic chemical principals in order to relate the specifics of a molecule, such as the chemical makeup, shape, or size, to the properties of matter.  Specifically, we will investigate the role of chemistry in the survival and prosperity of marine mammals.  For example, the biochemical make-up of the locomotor muscles helps to explain how marine mammals can hold their breath for so long compared to terrestrial mammals. The heat released from the breakdown of food during digestion is a trick used to help the smallest of marine mammals maintain stable core body temperatures. These are just a few of the adaptations of marine mammals that we will explore in this cluster. Marine mammals are also facing increasing threats that can compromise their very existence. Increases in chemical compounds in their environment are one threat; we will examine the effects and origins of these compounds.  This cluster involves field-intensive research for those who enjoy working in nature as well as a laboratory component to complement and solidify the concepts.

Prerequisite: Chemistry

Preference: Completion of Algebra 1

All students in this cluster will be enrolled in the following courses:

Marine Mammal Biology

Instructor: Shawn Noren, PhD, Associate Researcher, IMS-UCSC

Similar to humans and other terrestrial mammals, dolphins and seals must breathe air and maintain a stable core body temperature in order to survive. Yet living in the ocean creates a paradox: marine mammals must hold their breath to forage and their aquatic environment rapidly steals body heat. Over evolutionary time, marine mammals have acquired amazing physiological adaptations to endure these challenges. In this class we will explore the life history, physiology, and conservation of this fascinating group of mammals. Field trips may include a marine mammal survey in Monterey Bay, and trips to Año Nuevo State Beach, Long Marine Laboratory, Marine Mammal Center, and/or the Oiled Wildlife Center.

Chemistry: Atomic Scale Explanation for the Properties and Reactivity of Matter

Instructor: Chris Deming, PhD, Chemistry Instructor, De Anza College

Chemistry is part of our everyday experiences whether we recognize it or not. Although the individual atoms and molecules that make up the world cannot be seen with our eyes, we can still recognize differences in properties between solids, liquids, and gases, as well as experience the result of chemical reactions, such as the use of automobiles or when you take antacids for indigestion.  Better medicines, electric cars, and tastier food can all be explained through examining the atomic scale characteristics of a substance.  In this class, we will explore and investigate the specifics of atomic and molecular structures that result in the drastically different properties and reactivity of matter.  As living creatures, our life depends on specific chemical reactions, so it is crucial to understand the chemistry of life, how certain chemical structures will affect life, and by what processes we become exposed to certain substances. Additionally, we will go beyond simply learning these ideas by performing a variety of experiments.  This first-hand investigation will provide a stronger connection to the concepts discussed and give practice utilizing the scientific process.  Experiments may include the investigation of color, the synthesis of polymers, and the analysis of computer-simulated molecular models.