As reported by NPR, students at University of California, Davis have the opportunity to learn about chemical engineering in a unique way involving something many of them love: coffee.
STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students have been dropping out after a steady diet of mathematics in the first years of college, leaving professors looking for ways to incorporate vital learning into creative formats. William Ristenpart and Tonya Kuhl, two engineering professors at UC Davis, came up with the idea to take apart a Mr. Coffee coffeemaker in order to study how the designers solved the small-scale engineering challenge of brewing coffee.
“It dawned on Ristenpart that every aspect of coffee-making matched a major topic in the chemical engineering curriculum, from the chemical reactions of roasting, to mass transfer (when hot water extracts oils and flavor compounds from coffee grounds), and fluid dynamics, which control the flow of hot water and steam.”
The course, Design of Coffee, has become incredibly popular at the school. In its first year, it only has 18 students sign up, but as word spread the class became a hot commodity. 300 students signed up the semester after that. Today, more than 1,500 students take the course each term.
The fascinating learning opportunity is one that other universities may latch on to, as they look to educate in outside-the-box ways.