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Q&A with Gail Webster
Gail Webster is a professor of Chemistry at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC.

Gail Webster is a professor of Chemistry at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. Dr. Webster is teaching her course, Chemistry of Food and Cooking, in the Alto Adige province of Northern Italy. The POGIL Inquirer checked in with her to see how the course was going. The interview is transcribed below (edited). For the full interview and to read the spring 2016 POGIL Inquirer, go to this link.

Q:  Explain Chemistry of Food and Cooking. If I were one of your potential students, why would I want to take this course?

Gail:  Chemistry of Food and Cooking explores basic chemical concepts (atomic structure, periodic properties, bonding, ionic nomenclature, interpreting line structures for molecular compounds, acid-base reactions, stoichiometry and much more) through the study of “food molecules” –water, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Chemical reactions are studied using these types of molecules and also through cooking processes. For potential students, I would talk to them about how learning chemistry through a common context, food, makes learning the material more interesting since it is relevant to their everyday activities, like cooking and eating. I would also mention that the course is not a cooking class, but the study of many of the same chemistry topics that one would learn about in a regular general chemistry.

Q:  How have you incorporated POGIL into this course? 

Gail: POGIL is used for students to learn about each of the major food molecules and other chemical concepts. I use activities for students to learn about atomic structure, the periodic table, ionic compounds, molecular compounds, fats, amino acids, carbohydrates, acid-base chemistry, amino acids, proteins (structure and folding), and stoichiometry. The models are focused on chemical compounds found in foods and chemical reactions used in cooking.

Q:  How has POGIL affected the course?   

Gail: The depth of chemistry that is presented to students through these activities has made the course more rigorous. Students are also very involved in class. They ask more questions and they seem to have more fun in class….and I do too!

Q: Using the concepts of your course, what meal is the most fun to cook?

Gail: I can tell you a dinner menu that our class developed and cooked here during our study of proteins. We made a frittata, so we denatured proteins using both physical force (beating eggs) and then with heat. The frittata called for ricotta cheese, which we made from local milk. The milk solids were precipitated using an acid (lemon). The students prepared a salad, and made a dressing from olive oil (fat), lemon juice (aqueous) and mustard (emulsifying agent). At dinner, each of the students involved in the process explained the science involved in the particular dish that they helped prepare.