Smash hit food chemistry course to run in summer 2020


Published: 27Apr2020

For the first time ever, McGill University will run a summer-semester version of CHEM 181, its enormously popular course on the chemistry of food.

Enrolments are now open for a June 2020 edition of the course that has been taken by tens of thousands of students over its nearly 40-year history.

Making sense of food

“Eating has become a complicated and often confusing experience,” says course instructor Joe Schwarcz. “Virtually every day brings news about some ‘miracle food’ that we should be consuming or some ‘poison’ we should be avoiding.”

With a syllabus that gets right down to the molecules that make up essential nutrients, CHEM 181 helps students cut through the noise and weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of food-related research commonly presented in the media.

The course attracts students from every faculty at McGill – not surprising, perhaps, given the universality of the topic. But another key ingredient in CHEM 181’s enduring popularity is the innovative teaching methods used by its instructors, long-time pioneers in the field of remote delivery.

Remote learning expertise

While the COVID-19 pandemic has teachers and students around the world diving into remote learning on an unprecedented scale, students enrolling in this summer’s edition of CHEM 181 will benefit from a course with an established track record in online delivery.

In 2013, Schwarcz and co-instructors Ariel Fenster and David Harpp, adapted CHEM 181 to create McGill’s first massive open online course (MOOC) with a suite of video components professionally produced in a studio and lab on campus. Today, CHEM 181 also incorporates a number of videos from the popular Cracked Science series created by science communicator and CHEM 181 co-instructor Jonathan Jarry.

Generation-spanning popularity

Online delivery of CHEM 181 has allowed a growing number of students to access the sought-after course. In the Winter 2020 term, there were over 1,650 enrolments – almost three times the capacity of the largest lecture theatre on campus.

“Many say it was among the best courses they took at McGill,” Harpp says. “We have had the offspring of parents we have had in the class.”

The Summer 2020 edition of CHEM 181 will run from June 8 to July 9, 2020.

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