Tenth Grade Science Students Get a Cow’s-Eye View of Optics

IMG_0065 Ross School tenth graders are taking their studies of Isaac Newton’s breakthroughs in optics to the hands-on level by dissecting bovine eyes. The cow parts were chosen because of their similarity to the human eye, and the dissection project offers sophomores an in-depth “view” of how the mechanics of our eyes affect what we see. 

Science teacher Kim Borsack says this is a favorite part of her year: “As a biologist, I want to keep the learning process as tangible as possible. There’s no better experience than dissection to bring home a scientific concept.”

Kim’s students recently completed 3D models of the human eye using materials that closely replicate qualities of the physical eye. For example, sophomore Katie Morgan used gelatin to represent the vitreous humor and the lens of a magnifying glass for the model eye’s lens.

Through the dissection process, students will learn important information about our eyesight, such as how and why humans experience an advanced range of vision and the relationship of the retina to our ocular blind spots.

Examining the bovine tapetum, or layers of membrane in the eye, will also introduce students to the night vision capabilities of the cow and other animals that are mainly active at night. Their eyes are cat-like and appear to glow in the dark when exposed to light.

As they work, the student teams will take photos or video of their active dissections to prepare for a two-part assessment. First, they will complete a “pin” test identifying the eight key parts of the cow eye. Second, they will create a how-to guide to bovine eye dissection in a format of their choice.

Connecting to the historical study of Newton’s optics explorations by recreating his experiments allows students to attain an in-depth anatomical understanding that would be much more difficult to grasp through textbook-only methods.

“Our class has already conducted optics experiments with mirrors and lenses, and the dissection will give us an opportunity to actually look inside the eye to see what makes it work,” Katie says.