Science and Cooking Course at Harvard To Be Offered Again

"Science and Cooking" will continue with support from the Alicia Foundation

The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences announced its decision Wednesday to continue its relationship with the Alícia Foundation and famous chef Ferran Adrià—founders of the popular course Science of the Physical Universe 27: “Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter”—following a successful first semester of the class.

Applied Math Professor and course instructor Michael P. Brenner met with both Pere Castells and Toni Massanés—scientific director and president of the Alícia Foundation, respectively—to renew the partnership after Wednesday’s science fair showcasing students’ final projects for the class.

Brenner said they were “extremely impressed” with how well the students did in their final projects and how much general excitement there is about the intersection of science and cooking at Harvard.

“This is something we would all like to continue...we are working to ensure that the course will continue, in collaboration with the Alicia Foundation,” Brenner said. “The details for next year are still being worked out and finalized.”

Adrià, a Spanish chef who helped to teach the course, will continue to take part in it for another five years as a visiting lecturer, according to the Dean of SEAS Cherry A. Murray.

The class began as an “experiment,” said Brenner.

“We did not know for sure that the class would ‘work,’” he said, citing the difficulty of developing an effective curriculum to teach science to non-scientists.

“The whole undertaking  could have gone wrong on a number of different levels,” Brenner said.

Physics Professor David A. Weitz, who co-founded and co-teaches the class with Brenner, said he was pleased with the success of the course.

“I spent all my life in academia trying to teach physics...often to nonscientists, and to be honest it’s a struggle and they don’t want to learn it,” Weitz said. “For the first time students were interested. They wanted to learn—they enjoyed it.”

This year, the money used to fund course expenses—including the travel costs for the course’s guest lecturers—came from donors and sponsorships. But according to Michael P. Rutter, the director of communications for SEAS, the class will likely invite more chefs from around the country in future sessions.

The course is designed to provide an understanding of the properties of soft matter through concepts and examples in cooking. Last September, approximately 700 students lotteried for the course, 300 of whom were invited to join.

“Since so many kids wanted to [take] it and didn’t have the opportunity to, it’s important to extend [the course],” said Julia S. Howland ’12, who was enrolled in the course this semester.

Although Weitz said he considers the course a success, he said he will try to improve the course next year based on student feedback.

In addition, Weitz will likely be teaching the course alone as Brenner is planning to take a sabbatical.

“Personally, I hope that this course exists at Harvard forever more,” Brenner said.

“A lot of effort was expended in inventing it, and to me this seems to have been an interesting and effective way to teach science,” he said.

—Staff writer Melanie A. Guzman can be reached at melanieguzman@college.harvard.edu.

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