SciFood: Exploring the Principles of Biology through Food

The goal of this project was to expose students to biological topics such as diffusion, fermentation, metabolism, pH, plant biology, food source sustainability, muscle structure, blood viscosity, lipid transport, biomolecules, water, the scientific method and G protein coupled receptors in a novel way. To do this, students in BIO 110 explored these topics by performing experiments using the kitchen as a classroom and laboratory in the Fall 2016 semester. Student perception of learning gains in this course was assessed, and the results will be presented to the SENCER Summer Institute in 2017. 


During most weeks, a short lecture was followed by activities that were planned for students on a weekly basis, which allowed students to experience various principles of biology on a deeper level. Students performed experiments and completed lab reports answering questions about their results. Students also kept a lab notebook. For the final project, students used the scientific method to “dissect a recipe.” This involved making a favorite recipe three times. First, a control was made with no changes. Then, two variables were tested. In one experiment, students made a change to an ingredient, and in another experiment, students made a changed the cooking method. Students then reported their findings to the class.

Student learning was positively impacted by this approach. Students reported making “moderate,“ “good” or “great” gains in all of the major concepts covered in the class on the assessment of learning gains. Student comments from the survey instrument are included below:

“It helped me learn hands-on, and I like that better than just hearing someone talk for a long time.”

“I can now relate my cooking in the kitchen to science and understand better/worse cooking methods for certain foods”

“I never liked biology in high school, but using cooking to show certain concepts made it easier and more fun to learn.”

“My understanding has changed. We took common biology principles and expanded on our knowledge by relating it to cooking.”

“My understanding of this subject has increased greatly.”

“The hands-on part of the class makes the student want to go back to class and learn more about biology, or at least I did.”

“Doing a lab right after our lecture was very helpful because it was easy to recall what we had just learned.”

“Through the cooking labs, I was able to recall concepts more quickly than if it had been a lecture-only class.”

“We used foods that tasted amazing and thinking back on those labs I can remember how the different taste in certain things was able to help me relate it to my biology notes.”

“The labs performed in this class helped me remember all of the key ideas. It was very beneficial!”


Faculty: How did you see your students grow or change?

This course was challenging and exciting to teach. It presented opportunities to introduce concepts that students were not familiar with (e.g. how emulsifications work) and attach it to concepts they were already well acquainted with (e.g. what mayonnaise looks like). In addition to learning principles of biology, students became more familiar with culinary terms and how to operate equipment, such as a stand mixer, in the kitchen.

Student: How did participating in the project benefit you?

Mary Emilee Lussier: "By having a cooking lab every day, I was able to understand the concepts taught in a more everyday lifestyle way. It made the concepts easier to remember and more fun to learn."