Mandrakes, elder wands and butterbeer. One would not expect to hear these three words used outside of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series, especially in an honors chemistry class. But in University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor Rebecca Lai's "A Muggle's Guide to Harry Potter's Chemistry" class, students can expect a lot more than the usual chemical lab.
When picking a science course, many students, especially nonscience majors, tend to drift away from the chemistry or physics courses because they can be the less "entertaining" classes. Knowing this, Lai sought a new way to encourage more students to sign up for a university chemistry course.
"I really want students to learn science in broad way, so I combined two of the things that I know best, Harry Potter and chemistry," Lai said.
Chem 192H will be offered for the first time during the spring semester as a prototype. It will be a 15-week course that takes the world of Harry Potter and applies it to everyday life.
"I think it's a good idea for Harry Potter lovers out there," said Charlie Bastain, a freshman marketing and management major. "I don't really like science, but I would take the class just for that fact."
Given how quickly the course was created and approved by the university, Lai said she was shocked at the numerous emails she received asking about how to register for the class.
"I didn't get the class confirmed until August, so I didn't know if it would be offered this spring or not," Lai said. "I had only told a few colleagues of mine."
During the course, students will learn how to take what's fantasy and connect it to real life.
"I have taken various topics in the Harry Potter series and found ways that we could apply them to ‘muggle' life," Lai said. "For example, learning how a shrinking potion could be connected to reverse-aging chemicals like antioxidants."
The prototype course was so popular, Lai said she found a way to increase the number of available seats from 16 to 20. She also plans to offer the class next fall. It would go through Halloween week, allowing students to dress up as if they were in Hogwarts.
Students will also get sorted into houses at the beginning of the term, which will be used as groups for projects and other presentations.
"Hopefully sorting students into houses will allow them to meet new people and also get used to working with all types of people," Lai said.
The sorting will be at random, so some may not end up in a house that they favor, she said.
Although the course is listed as an honors class, it's open to all undergraduates regardless of year or major.
"The class seems like it is very fun to take, with the class topics, like fireworks and butterbeer," said Luke Stoppkotte, a freshman athletic training major.
With this being the first Harry Potter class at UNL, Lai said she hopes the theme of using popular culture to teach will catch on in the academic community, not just with her course.
"It's not only Harry Potter related, other professors can spin a class on other series that will bring education and entertainment together," Lai said.
"I want everyone to be able to experience this class, not just chemistry majors, I want my students to learn the fundamentals in a fun way. It's not just a muggle's guide to chemistry, but a chance for students to connect with their creativity."
Lecture topics in ‘A Muggle's Guide to Harry Potter's Chemistry'
- Invisibility cloak and invisible ink
- Food science: dementors and butterbeer, fizzing whizbees
- Oculus reparo
- Elixir of Life
- Plants: willow, holly, yew, elder
- Potions: Beautifying Potion, bruise-healing potions, Bubotuber pus, Sleakeazy's hair potion
- Fireworks, Fire Protection Potion and Erumpent Horn