Tag Archives: lectures

The Science of Cooking

Learning the structure and mechanism behind everyday life is one of the things that drew me to science. And there are few better examples of that than cooking, an activity which is pretty necessary and central to life! The way that cooking is taught actually shares a lot with the way that science is taught. Initially you memorize recipes, formulae, and techniques without necessarily having a clear idea of the motivations. But as you gain skill you learn more about the fundamentals and the why of what is happening! In science the fundamentals can be things like the basic forces, atomic interactions, or the use of math to unify behavior at many different size scales. And in cooking, as you search for motivation you begin delving into chemical reactions, mechanical processes that modify ingredients, and the biology of the things being eaten as well as the person doing the eating.

There are a lot of excellent books on this out there, notably On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. But there’s also a nice online resource, lectures from a popular Harvard course on science and cooking. Each week they invited a guest chef to give a public talk, and do a course lecture and demonstration. Then they had a lecture from the course organizers to go into a specific scientific concept in the guest chef’s demo. And finally, they went into a lab to recreate the dish shown or another dish that built on the same scientific concept. The full list of lectures, covering things like phase changes, browning, emulsions, viscosity, and heat, is available here, and here is the first lecture:

Physics for Future Presidents

A quick break from the science basics I’ve been laying down!

When I was an undergrad, my university had a pretty amazing course for non-scientists called Physics for Future Presidents. The basic idea was to cover a lot of day-to-day phenomena from a scientific angle, forgoing any unnecessary background, and the professor for the course, Rich Muller, was very charismatic and an excellent lecturer. While I am trying in my posts to build up some scientific concepts so that I can write about some of the interesting phenomena out there, the approach of Physics for Future Presidents was to treat physics as a second language that you learn through total immersion. An interesting approach, and they covered lots of physics from the headlines such as UFOs, nuclear weapons, and solar energy.

I bring this all up to point out that the lectures for the course are available online here, and you can access some of the book chapters online such as those covering radioactivity and climate change. It’s a great resource for improving scientific literacy, which even scientists can benefit from.