He loves to teach chemistry, and he loves to cook. What more could teacher Dr. Ralph Nicolosi ask for than a professional development opportunity to take an online Science & Cooking class, and through Harvard University no less?
Since early October, Dr. Nicolosi (a.k.a. Dr. Nic) has spent weekends and additional free hours whenever they presented themselves, conducting required labs in his kitchen ranging from studying diffusion rates of soy sauce in egg whites to calibrating an oven’s temperature based upon phase changes of sugar, and monitoring the temperature at which butter melts or Crisco solidifies.
In addition, when he wasn’t writing and submitting lab reports to be graded, Nicolosi was laboring over and submitting homework assignments and calculations, all of which were also subject to right or wrong evaluations. “If you are interested I can show you how to calculate the precise number of carbon atoms in one tablespoon baking soda,” he joked.
The class (Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science) is offered by HarvardX, an online learning initiative of Harvard University. It includes video presentations by world-famous chefs and food scientists. The academic components were orchestrated by three Harvard professors in Applied Mathematics, Chemical Engineering and Applied Materials, and Physics and Applied Physics. The format includes interactive videos, online exercises and homework assignments over six modules ranging in topics from flavor to heat transfer.
While embracing the culinary experience, Dr. Nicolosi also relived what it was like to be a student in a challenging course like the ones he himself teaches. He said that may have been the most meaningful message he took away from the course.
“In addition to arbitrary deadlines, I had to deal with test questions that seemed to come out of the wild blue yonder at times!” he said. “Hmmm, I guess I felt the pain my students feel at times.”