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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

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The science of cooking

Have you ever been cooking up one of your favorite treats at home, and wondered what chemical and molecular transformations occur, and moreover, how they manifest into the dish you know and love? Then you should check out Culinary Chemistry (CHSC 7A)! 


According to the course description, students will gain “a basic understanding of chemical principles as they relate to food, cooking, baking, and other culinary transformations,” while also learning “basic chemical principles, experimental design, data analysis, and science communication.” The course was designed for non-science majors, Professor Stephanie Murray (CHEM) told The Hoot in a Zoom interview. Do not fret if you have never taken a science class before, this intro-level course is made for you to be able to dip your toes in the world of science and experimentation, all while enjoying mouth-watering treats.


In terms of the format of the class, Murray said that each topic taught will take up two classes: the first class will focus on the theoretical and chemical aspect of a topic. After watching some videos or doing readings at home, students will work together in groups on worksheets to reinforce concepts that they learned. The second class will be the culinary experiment, where students will be able to apply the concepts that they learned that week into an edible snack. The best part? This experiment does not occur in a scientific laboratory, but a kitchen much like the one in your own home! According to Murray, this class is focused on this experimental and problem-solving aspect of science, and it is not lecture-heavy. 


For example, during one week of the class, students will learn the chemical foundations behind why adding salt to a liquid such as water will actually drop the temperature at which it freezes and turns to ice! How will you test this chemical concept in the lab? You will make ice cream and experiment on how the recipe and process changes when you add salt versus when you do not add salt. You even get to use liquid nitrogen, and who wouldn’t want to play with liquid nitrogen in class? Though fun, these kinds of questions and experimental setups are the foundations of science and are what have allowed us to accumulate the vast wealth of knowledge we have today.


Murray was inspired to create this class from a course that she took as an undergraduate. She said she is “very passionate about science but also like[s] to stimulate interest from other disciplines and encourage [others to] be interested in science.” Murray hopes that students from other disciplines can learn valuable skills that science teaches, such as logic, problem-solving and experimentation.


Murray hopes that students will come out of the class being better skilled in problem solving, logical reasoning, observations, conclusions and finding sources. Since students are able to get hands-on experience with doing experiments, she hopes they will also become more comfortable with doing labs. The overall goal for Murray is for students to gain an appreciation of science through the fun and interactive lens of cooking. 


Since the class was created for students who have not taken any college level chemistry, students do not need to know any chemistry to join this class. The class is specifically for non-science majors; science majors cannot take this class, and it does not count for the chemistry major or minor.


Murray hopes that she will “make chemistry inspiring for many different students.” Through the final project in the class, students will be able to apply everything they learned by designing their own study and doing a project on a question that they are interested in. 


Culinary Chemistry is offered every Tuesday and Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the Skyline kitchens. Students interested in taking the class can email Prof. Murray. 


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