COOL CLASSES: “Chemistry in Everyday Life”

In this “Case Studies in Chemistry” course, students revisit the world about them from the perspective of chemistry, including food, cars, and fabrics.

Class name: “Chemistry in Everyday Life”

Taught by: Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry Yang Yang           

Here’s what Yang had to say about the class:

Chemistry is everywhere, recognize it or not. One doesn’t have to be an expert to appreciate and enjoy the utility, charm, and beauty of this discipline. Indeed, one will be shocked to realize how thoroughly our daily lives are “saturated” with chemistry. In my course, my students and I attempt to revisit the world about us from the perspective of chemistry. For example, when we talk about food, we don’t debate whether Szechuan cuisine or Mexican is spicier, but we discuss the chemical basis of why we can actually taste. When looking at cars, we don’t care whether they are BMWs or Mercedes-Benzs, yet we are keen to understand how the chemicals in an airbag could save our lives, how catalysts help reduce the pollutants in exhaust fumes, and how batteries drive the next-generation electric cars. As for our own clothing, it doesn’t matter whether it is out of fashion; we zoom into the chemical materials of fabrics and explore how polymer sciences contribute to a far better understanding of our attire’s chemical properties. It is my earnest hope that my course could help build a full awareness and promote the value of chemistry in our everyday lives.

Chemistry, in my eyes, has a science-art duality. After hundreds of years of development, chemistry nowadays is way more than a set of bizarrely shaped glassware, colorful liquids, unusual smells, frothing bubbles, and jumping flames. A chemist like their counterpart artist pushes to the extreme to create, and more importantly, to understand and to have a full control of new substances at the atomic and molecular level. For example, in pursuing such outer scientific limits, Professor Ahmed Zewail, the 1999 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, was able to build the fastest camera to track the molecular motion. Professors Fraser Stoddart, Jean-Pierre Sauvage, and Bernard Feringa, all three 2016 Nobel Laureates, engineered the molecular machines with desired functions (like nanocars). In my course, my students and I will not only seek to comprehend chemistry as a science, but equally appreciate its artistic aspect and the complementary roles a chemist plays as both scientist and artist. I welcome this intriguing opportunity to teach and learn in a discipline like chemistry that offers so much to students on a liberal arts campus.


See what other courses the Department of Chemistry is offering this semester.

Illustration by Yang Yang. 

Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience.